Back Other Health News Other Health News Topics Other STDs WHO Warns of Global Threat of Drug-resistant Gonorrhea

WHO Warns of Global Threat of Drug-resistant Gonorrhea


Multidrug-resistant gonorrhea is a growing concern worldwide and millions of people may be at risk of running out of treatment options unless urgent action is taken, according to an alert issued this week by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Gonorrhea is among the most common sexually transmitted infections. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 700,000 people in the U.S. are newly infected with gonorrhea annually, and WHO estimates that 106 million people are infected worldwide.

Typical early symptoms of gonorrhea include burning urination and genital discharge, but the infection is often asymptomatic, especially in women. If left untreated it can cause to pelvic inflammatory disease or epididymitis -- both of which can lead to infertility -- and it can spread elsewhere in the body affecting the joints and heart. Gonorrhea also increases the risk of transmitting and contracting HIV.

"Gonorrhoea is becoming a major public health challenge, due to the high incidence of infections accompanied by dwindling treatment options," said Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan from WHO's Department of Reproductive Health and Research in a media advisory issued by the agency. "The available data only shows the tip of the iceberg. Without adequate surveillance we won’t know the extent of resistance to gonorrhoea and without research into new antimicrobial agents, there could soon be no effective treatment for patients."

Drug-resistant Neisseria gonorrhoea-- the bacteria that cause gonorrhea -- has been reported throughout the world. Countries in Europe (France, Norway, Sweden, U.K.), Australia, and Japan have reported cases of gonorrhea that are resistant to cephalosporin antibiotics, the last remaining treatment option.

On June 6, 2012, WHO issued a Global Action Plan for controlling the spread and minimizing the impact of drug-resistant gonorrhea. The guidance urges greater vigilance regarding the correct use of antibiotics, as improper use -- such as not completing a course of therapy -- can promote resistance.

The plan also calls for increased monitoring and reporting of resistant strains, better prevention, diagnosis, and control of gonococcal infection, and more research on new alternative gonorrhea treatments.

The full Global Action Plan is available online at



WHO. Global action plan to control the spread and impact of antimicrobial resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae. June 2012.

WHO: Urgent action needed to prevent the spread of untreatable gonorrhoea. Press release. June 6, 2012.