Amid growing concerns that gonorrhea — the second most common STD in the United States — is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it, federal researchers have been working to develop two new treatments for the sexually transmitted infection. This week, they will unveil “encouraging” findings at an international conference on sexual health issues in Vienna.
There’s only one effective treatment left to combat gonorrhea. As the STD becomes resistant to last-resort drugs, untreatable strains may begin spreading throughout the U.S. within the next few years. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently partnered with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to conduct a clinical trial to test two new drug combinations.
The researchers found that, by using two different combinations of injectable and oral antibiotics that haven’t been tested together before, they were able to rid patients of gonorrhea infections at least 99.5 percent of the time. “This is a very encouraging development in a discouraging field with very few new options in the pipeline,” Robert Kirkcaldy, a medical epidemiologist at the CDC’s division of STD prevention, told USA Today. “We are moving in the right direction with encouraging results.”
For months, the CDC has been warning that the country needs to do more work to combat the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Because gonorrhea mutates very quickly, it has been able to outpace antibiotic development. And since pharmaceutical companies don’t profit as much from developing new antibiotics to treat STDs as they do from investing in long-term treatments for chronic conditions, the research in this area has fallen behind.
“It’s very scary when you have only one effective regimen,” Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, explained.
Now, the CDC is making this area of scientific innovation one of its top priorities. While federal researchers are excited about the development of two additional antibiotic treatments for gonorrhea, the two treatments tested in the clinical trial produced mild side effects, and they want to create other drug cocktails that don’t have that unintended consequence. The results from this trial will aid their research moving forward — and provide a much-needed solution for people who may contract a strain of the STD that can’t be treated with the antibiotic that’s currently being used.
“For the future, it means we’ve accomplished something,” Fauci pointed out. “It isn’t the end of the road, but it’s very gratifying to know we developed new treatment options… we need to stay ahead of resistant gonorrhea infections.”
Unfortunately, gonorrhea isn’t the only example of an area where antibiotic treatments are losing their effectiveness. Drug-resistant superbugs pose a potential public health threat in U.S. hospitals, and global health officials are also concerned about emerging antibiotic resistance in malaria, tuberculosis, and whooping cough.