UK doctors are being told the antibiotic normally used to treat gonorrhoea is no longer effective because the sexually transmitted disease is now largely resistant to it.
The Health Protection Agency says we may be heading to a point when the disease is incurable unless new treatments can be found. For now, doctors must stop using the usual treatment cefixime and instead use two more powerful antibiotics. One is a pill and the other a jab. The HPA say the change is necessary because of increasing resistance.Untreatable strains
Tests on samples taken from patients and grown in the laboratory showed reduced susceptibility to the usual antibiotic cefixime in nearly 20% of cases in 2010, compared with just 10% of cases in 2009. This presents the very real threat of untreatable gonorrhoea in the future”Prof Cathy IsonHPA
As recently as 2005, no gonorrhoea bacteria with reduced susceptibility to cefixime could be found in the UK. The bacterium that causes the infection - Neisseria gonorrhoeae - has an unusual ability to adapt itself and has gained resistance, or reduced susceptibility, to a growing list of antibiotics - first penicillin itself, then tetracyclines, ciprofloxacin and now cefixime.
The World Health Organization recommends that the first-line antibiotic used is changed when treatment failure in patients reaches 5%. But for cefixime, the change is being made pre-emptively, owing to the alarming rise in resistance that is emerging.