Drug-resistant gonorrhea viewed as urgent threat to U.S. Public
Antibiotic advances have largely stalled, leaving medical community without new medications
Gonorrhea, the sexually transmitted disease once vanquished with penicillin, has become increasingly resistant to antibiotic treatment in recent years. Drug resistant strains of the disease have popped up in major metropolitan cities, and doctors have no new medications to battle the illness.
In the meantime, the best way to avoid these infections is preventive. This includes hand-washing and in-hospital programs to evaluate whether the antibiotics being prescribed are appropriate.
Steve Solomon, acting director for the epidemiology and analysis program office at the Atlanta-based CDC says that bacterial resistance was first identified after the introduction of antibiotics in the Forties. In the past, there were always more antibiotics in development. Today, the antibiotic pipeline has largely "dried up," leaving doctors without new weapons against gonorrhea -- a "nightmare," Solomon said. "The cushion of new antibiotics is gone. We're right at the edge of this cliff where we're approaching the post-antibiotic era."
The three most serious drug-resistant threats are C. difficile, which causes life-threatening diarrhea, carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae, which includes E.coli and affects mostly people in health-care settings and gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted infection.
These three have the biggest clinical and economic impact, as well as the greatest current and projected incidence, according to the report. Even worse, they are also among the easiest to transmit and have few treatment options. C. difficile alone causes 250,000 infections and 14,000 deaths at a cost of $1 billion each year, according to the report.
"The use of antibiotics is the single most important factor leading to antibiotic resistance around the world," researchers wrote in the report. That includes use by humans, for whom about 50 percent of prescribed drugs aren't needed or aren't effective, as well as use by animals.
In the past, "there was a sense that resistance wasn't a huge problem because there would always be another antibiotic coming down the pipe, and for 50 to 60 years, that was kind of true," the CDC's Solomon says. Sadly, that's no longer the case.
In the meantime, the best way to avoid these infections is preventive. This includes hand-washing and in-hospital programs to evaluate whether the antibiotics being prescribed are appropriate, Daniel McQuillen, a member of the Infectious Disease Society of America says.
These kinds of interventions were probably what caused a decline in the incidence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA infections, a separate study concluded.
Cases of invasive MRSA from health-care settings dropped by a third in 2011, compared with 2005. Hospital infections dropped by 50 percent, the report found.
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