As Gonorrhea Approaches Superbug Status, Scientists Scramble to Find a Vaccine

From 2013 to 2016, the rates of dually-resistant gonorrhea in China climbed from 1.9 percent to 3.3 percent

Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster
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Cell culture in a petri dish.
Cell culture in a petri dish.Credit: Wikimedia Commons/kaibara87
Ruth Schuster
Ruth Schuster

Gonorrhea is becoming more dangerous worldwide as the sexually-transmitted disease approaches untreatability, a report on growing incidences of the STD superbug in China shows.

Strains of Neisseria gonorrhoeae with dual resistance to World Health Organization-recommended antibiotics azithromycin and last-ditch drug ceftriaxone turn out to be common in China, says the groundbreaking study published this week in PLOS Medicine.

From 2013 to 2016, the rates of dually-resistant gonorrhea in China climbed from 1.9 percent to 3.3 percent, reports Yueping Yin of the National Center for STD Control, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Peking Union Medical College Institute of Dermatology in Nanjing, China and colleagues.

In short, superbug gonorrhea is becoming a global threat.
Most of the participants in the Chinese study were symptomatic male heterosexuals.

So what can be done? Just this week a completely different team reported they had invented a way to trap bacteria in the bloodstream that behaves like a nano-scale Venus flytrap. But the idea is short of a technology yet, and it wouldn’t work for gonorrhea anyway, which doesn’t infect the bloodstream. Normally, the disease can be fatal if it does.

Gonorrhea is the most common of all STDs, with over 80 million cases reported each year around the world – and that’s just the recognized cases. Some people are asymptomatic. Untreated gonorrhea may lead to infertility and other health impairments. Infection rates have been climbing in the west – and commensurately, the disease has been growing more difficult to treat.

As the germ achieves superbug status, meaning not treatable by antibiotics, the race is on to find alternatives. Just this week a completely different team, in Oregon State University, reported progress on leaning about the bacteria’s membrane proteins, with the hope of one day developing a vaccine. There is no vaccine against gonorrhea as of now.

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