U.K. case of ‘super-gonorrhea’ a global concern: microbiologist

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A U.K.’s man recent diagnosis of “super-gonorrhea” is a reminder that the infection may become untreatable by any antibiotic in the future.

This is because of antimicrobial resistance.

Gone are the days when a shot of penicillin was guaranteed to cure an infection, Dr. Vanessa Allen, chief of medical microbiology at Public Health Ontario told Global News. “If you have a resistant bacteria that spreads, the concern is that it’ll become a common problem worldwide.”

Antibiotic resistance occurs when a mutation of the organism causes it to survive the medication introduced to fight it. The drug-resistant bacteria then multiply.

READ MORE: How superbugs are threatening Canada and the world

“In the case of gonorrhea, when the drug is used too often, the bacteria outsmarts us,” she adds. “The drugs no longer work.”

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Public Health Ontario data shows that the last resort drug to treat gonorrhea, cephalosporins, has presented an increase in resistance within the province.

Over the last few decades, five antibiotic classes were found to be no longer effective in treating gonorrhea, including penicillin documented in 1976, tetracyclines in 1985 and quinolones in 1994.

Despite the effort put into developing new drugs, Dr. Allen says, they probably won’t work for a very long time since drugs being developed are just advanced versions of medications that are already on the market.

“The consequence of running out of drugs to treat infections is seeing patients being hospitalized for illnesses that were once cured with medication,” she adds. That’s something that doctors haven’t seen in 70 years.

Although dying from untreated gonorrhea is rare, possible consequences include infertility, chronic infections and hospitalization.

READ MORE: ‘Superbug gonorrhea’: What you should know about untreatable STIs

Recently, federal health minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor announced $300,000 in funding for a research team based at the University of New Brunswick that would collaborate with international scientists to tackle antimicrobial resistance. But the onus to fight drug-resistant bacteria, Dr. Allen says, falls on the individual citizen just as much as the medical community.

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Diligent hand washing to prevent getting an infection in the first place, vaccinations and safe sexual practices are steps citizens can take. Only taking antibiotics when necessary and completing the course as prescribed is also important for patients.

For the medical community to do its part, antibiotics should be prescribed less frequently and there needs to be a balance of dosage, so resistance is minimized while the infection is still effectively treated, Dr. Allen says.

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