What Is Super Gonorrhea? Man Has First-Ever Case of Antibiotic-Resistant Superbug

Government health officials in England say a man in the U.K. picked up the world’s worst-ever case of super-gonorrhea after a sexual rendezvous with a woman in southeast Asia.

Public Health England officials said the man contracted the first reported case of the sexually transmitted infection in which two separate antibiotics were unable to cure the bacterial spread, BBC News first reported. Health officials said the man had a regular partner in the U.K., but they believe the origin of the gonorrhea superbug stems from sexual activity with a woman in southeast Asia earlier this year.

Gonorrhea’s primary treatment is a combination of theazithromycin and ceftriaxone antibiotics. But the common antibiotic treatment has failed to fight off this man’s case. The Department of Health and Social Care in the U.K. lists gonorrhea, which is caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, as the second most common bacterial STI in the U.K.

Gonorrhea is transmitted through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal intercourse and even just genital contact with an infected partner. An infected person may have no symptoms, but can still transmit the infection. However, symptoms can include a thick green or yellow discharge from the genitals, or pain and bleeding during urination or menstruation. The bacteria can cause lead to serious complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility.

"This is the first time a case has displayed such high-level resistance to both of these drugs and to most other commonly used antibiotics," Dr. Gwenda Hughes of Public Health England told BBC News. "We are following up this case to ensure that the infection was effectively treated with other options and the risk of any onward transmission is minimized."

The man was undergoing treatment with one last antibiotic that doctors hoped would show signs of success by the end of the month. Doctors are also digging into his sexual history in order to contain the potential spread of the highly evolved form of gonorrhea.

World Health Organization data compiled in 77 countries last year found that antibiotic resistance is making gonorrhea an increasingly difficult, and sometimes impossible, STI to treat.

“The bacteria that cause gonorrhea are particularly smart,” said Dr. Teodora Wi, Medical Officer of Human Reproduction for the WHO, in a July 2017 statement. “Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them.”

WHO data finds that 78 million people are infected with gonorrhea each year, with decreasing condom use, urbanization, increased travel and failed treatment all factoring into its recent rise. More than 11 million people in the WHO South-East Asian Region are infected with gonorrhea every year.

Dr. Olwen Williams of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV said the "highly resistant gonorrhea strain" comes at a very concerning time due to bureaucratic budget cuts. 

doctor-1149149_1920 Government health officials in England say a man in the U.K. picked up the world’s worst-ever case of super-gonorrhea after a sexual rendezvous with a woman in southeast Asia. Pixabay

"We are concerned that the problem will worsen due to the dramatic cuts that have been delivered to the public health budget," Dr. Williams told BBC News. "Worryingly this has left sexual health services at 'tipping point', with clinic closures coming at the worst possible time."

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