Gonorrhea is fast becoming untreatable, health officials warn. Antibiotic-resistant cases of the sexually-transmitted disease skyrocketed more than 400 per cent between 2013 and 2014, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Medics are trying to combat the issue by combining the only two drugs that kill Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria, but in an ominous analysis released on Thursday, the CDC said there is a strong possibility this approach will soon become ineffective.
'The confluence of emerging drug resistance and very limited alternative options for treatment creates a perfect storm for future gonorrhea treatment failure in the US,' said Dr Jonathan Mermin, director of the CDC's National Center for preventing HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, STD, and tuberculosis.
'History shows us that bacteria will find a way to outlast the antibiotics we're using to treat it. We are running just one step ahead in order to preserve the remaining treatment option for as long as possible.'
There are only two antibiotics remaining that can treat gonorrhea: azithromycin and ceftriaxone. The infection has already become immune to penicillin, tetracycline and fluoroquinolones.
Increasingly, gonorrhea is building up a resistance to the individual drugs. And in some cases, even a combination of the two is proving futile.
Last month British doctors revealed they have spent weeks trying to treat a man with gonorrhea in his throat using combination therapy - to no avail.
According to the CDC, multidrug therapy still works and American doctors have yet to report a failed case.vThe concern, however, stems from the dramatic spike in cases where individual drugs are failing.
In 2013, 0.6 per cent of gonorrhea cases were resistant to azithromycin. A year later that figure leaped up to 2.5 per cent.
'If this becomes more widespread, it could jeopardize treatment of gonorrhea,' report author Dr Robert Kirkcaldy, an epidemiologist in the CDC's Division of STD Prevention, said.
Gonorrhea is incredibly common.
The CDC estimates more than 800,000 Americans contract the disease every year - but just 350,000 are diagnosed.
In the UK, there are around 35,000 cases a year - a proportionally high number.
With few symptoms many people go undiagnosed. Those who do experience symptoms may have pain, burning, discharge in the uterus, anus, throat, mouth or penis - wherever they have contracted the infection. Without treatment it can lead to chronic health problems.
If the bacteria gets in the blood stream it can cripple one's joints or even infect the heart. Infected women can be left infertile, suffer an ectopic pregnancy, or suffer permanent chronic pelvic pain.
Pregnant women with gonorrhea risk passing the infection onto their baby during childbirth, potentially leaving the infant blind. Men can develop persistant testicular pain and infertility.
The CDC did not offer an estimate of how long it could take for gonorrhea to become untreatable.
Source: Daily Mail