Recent data show new cases of gonorrhea are increasing in the U.K. The country's Health Protection Agency reports there was a 25 percent increase in new cases of the sexually transmitted infection in 2011, bringing the total number of infected individuals in the region to nearly 21,000. Additionally, the HPA reports that as many as one-third of these cases were repeat gonorrhea infections.
This increase, as well as the threat of drug-resistant strains of the STI, have prompted health officials to launch an action plan to combat the infection. It is called the Gonococcal Resistance to Antimicrobials Surveillance Program, or GRASP.
"We are seriously concerned about continuing high levels of gonorrhea transmission and repeat infection, suggesting we need to do more to reduce unsafe sexual behavior," said Gwenda Hughes, head of STI surveillance at the HPA. "The GRASP Action Plan advocates comprehensive health promotion programs to encourage safer sexual behavior, particularly in higher risk groups, such as men who have sex with men, alongside maintaining good access to STI screening and sexual health services."
The problem of drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea is happening worldwide. A recent study conducted by Canadian researchers found that as many as one in 15 cases are resistant to the oral antibiotic cefixime, which is believed to be the best treatment option for affected individuals. Scientists say the biggest challenge they face is finding a new way to cure the STI if current therapies no longer work.
Gonorrhea is the second most common STI in England. It is also common in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that there are as many as 820,000 new cases each year. However, health officials state that many infections are not diagnosed and treated, as the STI is often asymptomatic.
When left untreated, gonorrhea can cause major health problems including pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility in both men and women.
While individuals with symptoms including genital discharge, burning during urination, unusual sores or a rash should be tested for gonorrhea, others without these signs may also opt to be screened. Individuals are urged to speak with a medical professional to determine their risk for this and other STIs, which are often present without symptoms.