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London - “Superbug” strains of gonorrhea which are becoming untreatable accounted for almost one in 10 cases of the sexually transmitted disease in Europe in 2010, more than double the rate of the year before, health officials said on Monday.
The drug-resistant strains are also spreading fast across the continent, officials warned. They were found in 17 European countries in 2010, seven more than in the previous year.
gonorrhea was the second most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in Europe in 2010, with more than 32 000 infections, data from the Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) showed.
Even though chlamydia was the most frequently reported STI, with more than 345 000 cases, the ECDC's director singled out gonorrhea as presenting a “critical situation”.
Marc Sprenger said the increase in cases of superbug strains meant there was a risk gonorrhea may become an untreatable disease in the near future.
The proportion of gonorrhea cases with resistance to the antibiotic recommended to treat the disease, cefixime, rose from 4 percent in 2009 to 9 percent in 2010.
The ECDC report follows a warning from the World Health Organisation that virtually untreatable forms of drug-resistant gonorrhea were spreading around the world.
gonorrhea is a bacterial infection which, if left untreated, can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancies, stillbirths, severe eye infections in babies, and infertility in men and women.
It is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world and is most prevalent in South and Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
In the United States alone, the number of cases is estimated at about 700 000 a year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The emergence of drug-resistant gonorrhea is caused by unregulated access to and overuse of antibiotics, which help fuel genetic mutations within the bacteria.
“Public health experts and clinicians need to be aware of the current critical situation and should be vigilant for treatment failures,” Sprenger said in a statement.
Experts say the best way to reduce the risk of even greater resistance developing - beyond the urgent need to develop new drugs - is to rapidly and accurately diagnose the disease and then treat it with combinations of two or more types of antibiotics at the same time.
This technique is used in the treatment of some other infections like tuberculosis in an attempt to make it more difficult for the bacteria to learn how to overcome the drugs. - Reuters