Safer sexual behaviour, in particular consistent and correct condom use, can help prevent gonorrhoea, a common sexually-transmitted infection which is getting much harder and sometimes impossible to treat due to antibiotic resistance, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said.
“The bacteria that cause gonorrhoea are particularly smart. Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them,” said Teodora Wi, Medical Officer, Human Reproduction, at WHO.
Each year, an estimated 78 million people are infected with gonorrhoea which can infect the genitals, rectum, and throat. Complications of gonorrhoea disproportionally affect women, including pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility, as well as an increased risk of HIV.
Decreasing condom use, increased urbanisation and travel, poor infection detection rates, and inadequate or failed treatment all contribute to this increase, the WHO said in a statement.
There are no affordable, rapid, point-of-care diagnostic tests for gonorrhoea.
“To control gonorrhoea, we need new tools and systems for better prevention, treatment, earlier diagnosis, and more complete tracking and reporting of new infections, antibiotic use, resistance and treatment failures,” Marc Sprenger, Director of Antimicrobial Resistance at WHO, said.
“Specifically, we need new antibiotics, as well as rapid, accurate, point-of-care diagnostic tests — ideally, ones that can predict which antibiotics will work on that particular infection — and longer term, a vaccine to prevent gonorrhoea,” Sprenger added.
The latest warning is based on findings from two studies that looked at data from 77 countries. The studies were co-authored by WHO researchers.
Information, education, and communication can promote and enable safer sex practices, improve people’s ability to recognise the symptoms of gonorrhoea and other sexually transmitted infections, and increase the likelihood they will seek care, the statement added.