Health & Fitness

Warning: Untreatable gonorrhoea is on the rise in Australia

This super-superbug is terrifying.

By Jessica Chandra

A new report has revealed that there were more than 1,000 cases of drug-resistant superbugs in Australia between March 17, 2016, and March 31, 2017.

The bacteria are so strong that many cases couldn’t be treated by antibiotics. The reports found that gonorrhoea accounted for more than 60 per cent of the superbugs.

“These are super-superbugs,” said Professor John Turnidge, the senior medical advisor at the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care. “They’re the bugs we can’t afford to let get out of hand.”

There’s one particular strain of gonorrhoea that can no longer be treated with the antibiotic azithromycin.

Gonorrhoea, also known as ‘the clap,’ is a sexually-transmitted infection that can be contracted from unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. It can also be transmitted through the sharing of sex toys that have been used without a condom, or haven’t been washed properly.

Untreated, gonorrhoea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in females, and infertility in males and females. The babies of pregnant females are at risk of being blind. It can also cause meningitis.

Some male and most females don’t experience symptoms, meaning many people don’t know when they or their partner has it.

“What worries us is that the single agent left for treating patients might fail and the disease spread,” Professor Turnidge said.

This is not only an Australian issue. Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) described the dramatic rise of drug-resistant gonorrhoea around the world as a “very serious situation,” requesting the quick development of new drugs that will be able to treat the infection.

“To control gonorrhoea, we need new tools and systems for better prevention, treatment, earlier diagnosis, and more complete tracking and reporting of new infections, antibiotic use, resistance and treatment failures,” said Marc Sprenger, director of antimicrobial resistance at the WHO.

“Specifically, we need new antibiotics, as well as rapid, accurate, point-of-care diagnostic tests — ideally, ones that can predict which antibiotics will work on that particular infection — and longer term, a vaccine to prevent gonorrhoea.”

Teodora Wi, a human reproduction specialist at the Geneva-based UN health agency, described gonorrhoea as “a very smart bug. Every time you introduce a new type of antibiotic, this bug develops resistance to it.”

If you experience any of the following:

  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Pain when peeing
  • Lower belly pain
  • Sore throat

And are worried it could be gonorrhoea, see your doctor immediately.

The best way to prevent gonorrhoea is by always using protection (condoms and a water-based lubricant) during intercourse, limiting sexual partners, talking to sexual partners about practising safe sex, and getting tested regularly.