This once treatable STD is getting too smart for antibiotics.
The STD, which can present itself with a burning sensation while urinating and unusual genital discharge (or no symptoms at all), affects 78 million people around the world each year according to the WHO, including 820,000 people in the U.S. per the Center For Disease Control.
When left untreated the disease can result in pelvic inflammatory disease (which can cause infertility) and long-term abdominal pain — complications that disproportionately affect women. It is becoming increasingly difficult to treat gonorrhea, and in some cases it is impossible.
"The bacteria that cause gonorrhea are particularly smart. Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them," says Teodora Wi, a human reproduction specialist at the WHO, in a press release.
Data was collected from 77 countries that showed that there is widespread resistance to some of the older and more affordable antibiotics on the market. The WHO reports that countries with higher incomes, where there is better STD surveillance, are the ones where these untreatable strains are most likely to be found.
Additionally, WHO has discovered three superbugs — currently impossible to kill bacteria — in France, Japan and Spain.
Earlier this year, the international health organization announced that gonorrhea was one of the types of bacteria posing the greatest threat to human health, and in desperate need of new antibiotics. Unfortunately, the WHO says that there are currently only three new candidate drugs in development.