The World Health Organisation has warned that those who engage in oral sex risk contacting what it describes as ‘super gonorrhoea.’
The untreatable strain of gonorrhoea is rapidly spreading across the world, putting millions of lives at risk, WHO warns.
Experts said that incurable gonorrhoea has started to spread after becoming resistant to antibiotics.
The world health body has attributed the spread of untreatable gonorrhoea to two reasons: indulging in oral sex and a decline in condom use.
Gonorrhoea, which is sexually-transmitted, can live at the back of the throat and, because of this, has become immune to antibiotics used to treat common throat infections.
The WHO issued the warning after it confirmed that three people have died from the super infection, which spreads through sex.
Now, experts from the WHO have said it is “only a matter of time” before last-resort gonorrhoea antibiotics would be of no use at all.
“Gonorrhoea is a very smart bug,” said Teodora Wi, a human reproduction specialist at the Geneva-based U.N. health agency.
“Every time you introduce a new type of antibiotic to treat it, this bug develops resistance to it.”
She added that the rapid spread of the antibiotic resistant bacteria has been caused in part by oral sex.
“When you use antibiotics to treat infections such as a normal sore throat, this mixes with the Neisseria species (gonorrhoea bacteria) in your throat and this results in resistance,” she said.
A decline in condom use is also thought to have helped the infection to spread, she added.
Dr. Wi said medics have now documented three specific cases — one each in Japan, France and Spain — of patients with strains of gonorrhoea against which no known antibiotic is effective.
“These are cases that can infect others. It can be transmitted,” she said.
“And these cases may just be the tip of the iceberg, since systems to diagnose and report untreatable infections are lacking in lower-income countries where gonorrhoea is actually more common.”
The WHO found there was widespread resistance to the first-line medicine ciprofloxacin and increasing resistance to azithromycin.
In most countries, last-case antibiotics are now the only single antibiotics that remain effective for treating gonorrhoea. Yet, resistance to them has already been reported in 50 countries.
Director of the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership, Manica Balasegaram, said the situation was ‘grim’ and there was a ‘pressing need’ for new medicines.
“The pipeline is very thin, with only three potential new gonorrhoea drugs in development and no guarantee any will prove effective in final-stage trials,” he lamented.
“We urgently need to seize the opportunities we have with existing drugs and candidates in the pipeline.
“Any new treatment developed should be accessible to everyone who needs it, while ensuring it is used appropriately, so that drug resistance is slowed as much as possible,” he said.
The World Health Organisation estimates that 78 million people a year get gonorrhoea — a sexually transmitted disease that can infect the genitals, rectum and throat.
Physicians warn that gonorrhoea can turn vaginal and penis discharge green, but is often symptomless.
Again, they warn that it can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility, as well as increasing the risk of getting HIV.