Untreatable Strain of Gonorrhea May Be Headed to U.S.

LONDON—According to research carried out in Sweden and Japan, a new strain of gonorrhea, labeled H041, has reached what some scientists are calling "superbug" status, since it cannot be killed by any of the currently recommended treatments for the disease. However, no cases of the strain have yet been found in the U.S.

"Since antibiotics became the standard treatment for gonorrhea in the 1940s, this bacterium has shown a remarkable capacity to develop resistance mechanisms to all drugs introduced to control it," said Magnus Unemo of the Swedish Reference Laboratory for Pathogenic Neisseria, and who reported on his findings at the International Society for Sexually Transmitted Disease Research in Quebec, Canada on Monday.

Meanwhile, in the U.S., researchers have found that even less virulent forms of gonorrhea appear to be becoming more resistant to cephalosporins, the primary class of antibiotics currently used to treat the disease. An analysis conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control, who analyzed 10 years' worth of gonorrheal samples from 30 U.S. cities, found that more samples than ever have shown elevated minimum inhibitory concentrations (MICs), the lowest concentration of antibiotics needed to halt the growth of gonorrhea bacteria. These increases in MICs suggest a decline in gonorrhea's susceptibility to antibiotics, the researchers explained in a CDC press release.

The CDC study was published in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report for July 8.

However, they noted, there are no recorded cases of gonorrhea infection in the U.S. which could not be treated by cephalosporins.

But there is concern that that situation may not last.

"Japan has historically been the place for the first emergence and subsequent global spread of different types of resistance in gonorrhea," Unemo said. "Based on the historical data ... resistance has emerged and spread internationally within 10 to 20 years."

If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and ectopic pregnancy in women. It is also a disease that is tested for monthly by adult performers at clinics serving the adult industry.

Pictured: CDC chart of gonorrhea cases in the U.S.