The world’s “worst-ever” case of gonorrhea has been reported in Brittain, as a man has been diagnosed with a strain that is resistant to antibiotics normally used to treat the disease. The case has prompted an opinion article from David C. Harvey, the executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors, that stresses the need to concentrate on preventing STD’s.

In Harvey’s piece in The Hill, he says: This report is a confirmation of one of our greatest fears — untreatable gonorrhea could be on the very near horizon at a time when rates of the infection and of STDs overall are at record highs in this country. When we see a case like this in the U.K., it’s not a question of if, but when we’ll see it in the U.S. And once it’s here, it could spread quickly.

Antibiotic resistance is one of the most significant health threats globally, and Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea as one of the three most urgent threats in the realm of drug resistance in the U.S. That’s in part because gonorrhea is so widespread — more than 800,000 infections are estimated to occur in the United States each year — and left untreated, it can cause serious and sometimes life-threatening health problems, particularly for women. 

Gonorrhea is a smart bug. It has developed resistance to every class of antibiotic we have thrown at it. In the U.S., we are on our last line of options to treat gonorrhea — a combination of the antibiotics azithromycin and ceftriaxone. The case in the U.K. is the first confirmed case of gonorrhea that cannot be cured using this drug combination.

The report continues: Untreatable gonorrhea would be a public health catastrophe in the US, but that’s the path we’re on if something doesn’t change. As it stands, our public health system and STD programs are under-resourced and ill-equipped to handle the influx of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea, but with investment and support of proactive prevention strategies, we can hope to stem the tide.

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