WEDNESDAY, June 6 (HealthDay News) -- Gonorrhea, the second most common sexually transmitted disease, is rapidly growing resistant to the last class of antibiotics that can effectively treat the infection, the World Health Organization warned Wednesday.
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A number of countries, including Australia, France, Japan, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom, are reporting cases of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea. The infection can lead to a series of serious health problems for both men and women, including infertility, increased risk of HIV infection, and potentially blinding eye infections in newborns, the WHO said.
Every year some 106 million people around the world are infected with gonorrhea, the U.N. health agency said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 700,000 people in the United States get new gonorrhea infections each year and less than half of these infections are reported to CDC.
In recommendations released Wednesday, the WHO called for greater oversight on the correct use of antibiotics and more research into alternative treatments for infections. The agency's Global Action Plan also urges increased monitoring and reporting of resistant strains of the disease, as well as better prevention, diagnosis and control of infections.
"Gonorrhea is becoming a major public health challenge, due to the high incidence of infections accompanied by dwindling treatment options," Dr. Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan, of WHO's Department of Reproductive Health and Research, said in a news release.
"The available data only shows the tip of the iceberg. Without adequate surveillance we won't know the extent of resistance to gonorrhea and without research into new antimicrobial agents, there could soon be no effective treatment for patients," she added.
Gonorrhea accounts for one quarter of the four major, curable sexually transmitted diseases, WHO noted, and it's the second most common sexually transmitted infection after chlamydia.
Since the development of antibiotics, gonorrhea has developed resistance to a variety of antibiotics, including penicillin and tetracyclines, and appears to be developing resistance to cephalosporins, the last line of drug defense, the agency said.
"We are very concerned about recent reports of treatment failure from the last effective treatment option -- the class of cephalosporin antibiotics --as there are no new therapeutic drugs in development," Lusti-Narasimhan said. "If gonococcal infections become untreatable, the health implications are significant."
Untreated gonorrhea can lead to health problems for men, women and newborns, the WHO said, including: infection of the urethra, cervix and rectum; infertility in both men and women; increased risk of HIV infection and transmission; ectopic pregnancies; miscarriage, stillbirths and premature deliveries; and severe eye infections in up to 50 percent of babies born to women with untreated gonorrhea that can lead to blindness.
Gonorrhea can be prevented through safe sex practices. Early detection and treatment, including of sex partners, is essential to control sexually transmitted diseases, WHO said.
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SOURCE: World Health Organization, news release, June 6, 2012