Gonorrhea — AKA The Clap — Is Excellent At Resisting Antibiotics

People like to make jokes about gonorrhea.

Maybe it’s because this sexually transmitted disease is known as “the clap” (perhaps a reference to the French term “clapier,” meaning brothel, or to an early treatment – clapping a heavy object on the man’s sexual organ to get discharge to come out).

As the old (and not very funny) joke goes, “if you spread it around, is it called applause?”

But a new study illustrates why this sexually transmitted disease is no laughing matter. Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacterium that causes gonorrhea, is developing resistance to the antibiotics that have successfully treated it for decades.

A global group of experts on sexually transmitted diseases published an article in the scientific journal, PLOS Medicine, outlining the challenges of drug-resistant gonorrhea. They surveyed 77 countries that participate in a global gonorrhea tracking program and found that more than 90 percent report some kind of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea.

That’s bad news for patients. Because while gonorrhea doesn’t have the death toll that untreated HIV does — annual deaths from gonorrhea are about 2,300 — it still causes incalculable suffering. About 78 million adults contracted the disease in 2012, according to the World Health Organization. Symptoms include painful urination, itching and a pus-like discharge from the penis, vagina or anus, or a sore throat (in throat infections).

Infected people can unwittingly pass it on because not everyone shows symptoms. For women — most of whom never develop symptoms — complications can include infertility and chronic pelvic pain. If pregnant, women with gonorrhea can have premature births or pass the disease onto their newborns, who can develop life-long complications from infection.

Epidemiological studies have shown that gonorrhea and chlamydia infections can also make it easier to become infected with HIV. Researchers don’t entirely understand this connection, but they believe the body’s immune response to gonorrhea allows HIV to hijack T-cells recruited to fight gonorrhea. Plus STDs tend to weaken the integrity of genital mucosal linings, an important physical barrier to infections.

“This has been a real hard issue for people to take issue seriously,” said Manica Balasegaram, head of the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership, a joint initiative of WHO and the Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative. “It’s not seen as a killer disease, but it’s a big public health threat.”…

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