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WHO: Gonorrhea on Verge of Becoming a Super Bug

The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging governments to step up surveillance of gonorrhea, the second most prevalent sexually transmitted disease (STD), which has developed such an extensive resistance to antibiotics it is on the verge of becoming a super bug.

The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that the WHO is urging doctors around the world to do more to combat gonorrhea, a bacterial infection that causes inflamation, infertility, pregnancy complications and, in extreme cases, may lead to maternal death. The bacteria has adapted to every antibiotic doctors have used against it, including cephalosporins, antibiotics that were considered the last line of treatment available. 

"This organism has basically been developing resistance against every medication we've thrown at it," said Dr. Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan, who works in the WHO's  department of sexually transmitted diseases. "In a couple of years it will have become resistant to every treatment option we have available now."

New guidelines are aimed at ending complacency about gonorrhea and inspiring researchers to step up their search for a new cure before it becomes a bona fide super bug.

Gonorrhea, also known as "the clap," was once the bane of sailors and soldiers, but increases in sexuality activity across the globe have caused the disease to become the second most common sexually transmitted disease after chlamydia. The WHO estimates that of the 498 million new cases of STD's reported worldwide every year, gonorrhea comprises 106 million of them. Besides the damage done by the disease itself, it also increases a person's chances of infection with other diseases, such as HIV.

The problem with this particular STD, which was once easily treated with penicillin, is very adaptable to the drugs used against it. Resistance to the last line of defense, cephalosporins, was first reported in Japan but has now been detected in Britain, Australia, France, Sweden and Norway. Because these countries all have well-developed health systems that make reporting easy, researchers believe it is certainly spreading elsewhere and going undetected.

"It's not a European problem or an African problem, it's really a worldwide problem," Lusti-Narasimhan told the AP.

The new WHO guidelines ask countries to not only improve their rules for antibiotic use, but also to improve their surveillance systems in order to help researchers determine the full extent of the problem.

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