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WASHINGTON (CBS) – The STD gonorrhea used to embody an inconvenience or a slight embarrassment in a doctor’s office. A question such as, “Can I still drink on antibiotics?” was at the top of the priority list. But now, because the bacteria has mutated over the past few decades, a very real question has become, “Will it kill me?”
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), only one antibiotic – a two-part needle injection – remains the sole effective treatment.
“We are sounding the alarm,” Jonathan Zenilman, who studies infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins, told NPR. “Gonorrhea used to be susceptible to penicillin, ampicillin, tetracycline and doxycycline — very commonly used drugs.
But one-by-one, each of those antibiotics — and almost every new one that has come along since — eventually stopped working. One reason is that the bacterium that causes gonorrhea can mutate quickly to defend itself, Zenilman said. Five years ago, the CDC said fluoroquinolones were no longer effective, but oral cephalosporins were still a common/easy treatment. Now injected ceftriaxone is the only recommended effective drug we have left. And it has to be given along with either azithromycin or doxycycline.
Once gonorrhea becomes resistant to the last of our cephalosporin antibiotics — “It’s only a matter of time,” according to Dr. Gail Bolan, Director of STD Prevention at the CDC in today’s announcement — we will have no treatment. Then when it gets into your bloodstream, it will be lethal.
But there is still hope for those not looking to shy away from all sexual conduct.
One piece of advice from the study is to only take antibiotics as prescribed and directed – and more importantly, to finish the entire course of the prescription even if symptoms improve (this is true for any infection). Regular testing and condoms are great tools as well, but the only definitive way to avoid getting the disease is to simply avoid having sex with someone infected with gonorrhea.
“I think it should be a real clarion call to every American that we’ve got a looming public health crisis on our hands and potentially hundreds of thousands of cases of untreatable gonorrhea in this country every year,” William Smith, who heads the National Coalition of STD Directors, told NPR.
According to the CDC, sixty-four million people get it every year; 700,000 in the United States alone.