GENEVA — Gonorrhea infections are rising, and doctors are running out of antibiotics that can fight the increasingly resistant bacteria causing the sexual disease, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned Friday.
Two-thirds of the countries that report resistance data to the WHO have seen cases in recent years in which their antibiotics of last resort no longer worked against gonococci bacteria.
“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 gonorrhea is actually more common,” WHO expert Teodora Wi said in Geneva.
The U.N. health agency estimates that 78 million people are infected every year.
Britain and the United States reported increases of more than 10 percent in 2015. Cases among gay men in France doubled between 2013 and 2015.
Rates are highest in the African region, where 1 in 10 men is infected each year.
The main reasons for the increase are decreasing condom use, increased mobility, poor disease monitoring and inadequate treatment, according to the WHO.
Gonorrhea can infect the genitals, rectum and throat. It can lead to inflammation of the pelvis and to infertility.
It’s cases in the throat that are most worrying, experts say, as that environment is highly conducive to the growth of bacteria, giving rise to so-called “super bacteria.”
Currently, only three new drugs are being developed, because pharmaceutical companies know that the bacteria will soon become resistant to any new antibiotic.
To control gonorrhea, doctors not only need new medicines, but also a rapid diagnostic tool and a vaccine, which have both yet to be developed, WHO antimicrobial expert Marc Sprenger said.