When you think of dangerous, incurable sexually transmitted diseases, you probably don’t think of gonorrhea. But pretty soon, you might have to.
Gonorrhea infections are up, and scientists are now warning that there’s a very distinct possibility that a strain of the bacteria could become so drug-resistant as to be incurable by known treatments.
The bad news comes out of Sweden, where doctors are warning that the crisis may be impending. Swedish researchers have shown that gonorrhea infections there have doubled in the last decade, despite public health education campaigns
Elin Jacobson of Folkhälsomyndigheten says of the rise, “THere are several factors which have contributed to the growth. One of them is that more cases are detected now because access to tests has increased since ordering them online was made possible.”
“Gonorrhea has lived in the shadow of chlamydia somewhat, which is the most common STD in Sweden, but since a few years back both chlamydia and gonorrhea can be detected by the same test.”
Despite improved public education and rising numbers of Swedes who are taking the combined chlamydia / gonorrhea test, some public health officials still believe that awareness about the disease is inadequate.
Jacobson continued, “The number of cases of gonorrhea reported was generally low for a long time, which means that awareness about the infection could be low. It’s very important that people who have unprotected sex are offered tests and discussions about condom use.”
“Condom usage is too low in Sweden: it has dropped since the 80s and 90s when the fear of HIV was high. Chlamydia is not perceived as similarly serious, and as a result of that the incentive to use condoms isn’t as high. We also know that the number of sexual partners during a lifetime has increased and people don’t always make a rational risk assessment.”
Gonorrhea is most commonly spread through unprotected penetrative sex, though it can also be transmitted through oral sex. Last year, the average age of the people who were infected with gonorrhea was 28-29. Most of them were male.
Scientists worry that a strain or strains of gonorrhea could become totally resistant to antibacterial treatment. This would pose a significant danger to public health. Gonorrhea, if untreated, can cause PID in women, infertility in men, and can even become life-threatening if it spreads to your blood or joints.
“The increase is worrying because it could become incurable as multiresistant bacteria grows. For one kind of gonorrhea in particular there is currently only one kind of antibiotic which can cure it,” said Jacobsson.
“People are actively looking for new antibiotics, but we could end up in a situation where the cure which exists stops working.”
Gonorrhea is the second-most-common bacterial STI in America. Chlamydia is the most common.