20 February 2013

Resistance

The CDC publishes Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, a weekly bulletin describing recent disease outbreaks as well as long-term public health trends.

This week's issue (perhaps to coincide with Valentine's Day?) discusses multi-drug resistant gonorrhea. Gonorrhea is a common sexually-transmitted bacterium that, if untreated, can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and predisposition to ectopic pregnancy in women. Having gonorrhea also makes it easier to get infected with HIV, by damaging some of the body's innate defenses to the virus. In many people gonorrhea causes no symptoms, hampering its recognition.

Gonorrhea has quickly become resistant to an increasing variety of antibiotics, leaving us with a precious few that remain effective (at least, for the time being) against the bug. The report also states that "only one antimicrobial is undergoing clinical study as a potential treatment for gonorrhea." The specter of totally-antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea is frightening and increasingly possible.

A number of factors drive antibiotic resistance, among them:
  • unwarranted prescriptions of antibiotics by medical providers;
  • excessive use of antibiotics in livestock; and
  • a lack of investment in new vaccines and new antibiotics.
Hopefully our legislators will find the latest news about gonorrhea alarming enough to craft policies that engender more-judicious antibiotic use.

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