The World Health Organization has issued new guidelines for the treatment of gonorrhea after many new antibiotic-resistant strains have emerged around the world. The WHO recommends doctors use cephalosporins instead of quinolones (both of which are classes of antibiotics), changing the protocol for gonorrhea treatment for the first time since 2003.
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease that affects 78 million people around the world each year, including 820,000 people in the US. Many infected people initially have no symptoms, but if untreated gonorrhea can lead to chronic infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancies and serious infections for babies in untreated mothers.
This is hardly the first time doctors have been required to switch up antibiotics after strains of gonorrhea developed resistance to them. In many developed countries, the treatment had already shifted from quinolones to cephalosporins, and in some of those places, strains of gonorrhea are already resistant to the newly recommended class of antibiotic.
“We really wanted countries to remove quinolone as the treatment of choice,” said Teodora Wi from the WHO department of reproductive health and research. “Imagine if African countries invest so much money just to buy quinolones and the bacteria are already resistant.”
But, Wi added, we’ll probably need new drugs altogether in 5 years, since gonorrhea will become resistant to all current antibiotics used. The disease has already grown immune to
Lorraine Boissoneault is a writer in Chicago who covers science, history, foreign affairs, and adventure. She's written for Weather.com, Salon, Forbes, JSTOR Daily and many others. Her first book, The Last Voyageurs, was published by Pegasus in April 2016.