Health officials are warning the public about the potential danger of a particular strain of the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea, certain strains of which are becoming resistant to traditional antibiotic treatment.
Alan Christianson, NM.D., recently told CNBC News that the so-called superbug could rival AIDS in terms of the number of people it affects.
"This might be a lot worse than AIDS in the short run because the bacteria is more aggressive and will affect more people quickly," Christianson told the news provider. "Getting gonorrhea from this strain might put someone into septic shock and death in a matter of days. This is very dangerous."
What is it?
The particular strain of gonorrhea in question is known as HO41. It was discovered in Japan two years ago and has since been seen in Hawaii, California and Norway.
A recent study conducted by researchers from Public Health Ontario in Canada found that as many as one in 15 cases of the STD are resistant to the oral antibiotic cefixime, which is currently believed to be the best treatment option for affected individuals.
Because this particular strain isn't responding to antibiotic treatments, health officials have classified it as a superbug. The CDC reports that about half of those infected with known superbugs, such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (or MRSA) and Carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (or CRE), die from these infections. However, no deaths due to antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea have been reported.
Efforts to stop it
The National Coalition of STD Directors recently hosted a Congressional Briefing on this strain of gonorrhea and requested $54 million in immediate funding to help find an antibiotic to treat it.
Officials said that given the current trajectory of this disease, the question is not if gonorrhea will develop resistance to all drugs designed to treat it, but when.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has also created a public health response plan for the STD strain. It states that "preparation and action now, prior to the emergence of resistant strains, will allow for a more effective and less costly response later."
The CDC reports that gonorrhea is the second most common STD in the U.S. The agency estimates that 820,000 individuals are infected with the disease each year.
Like many other STDs, young people under the age of 25 are particularly affected by the STD.
Gonorrhea is transmitted through sexual contact and is present in the bodily fluids of those who have it.
While some people do not experience symptoms, others complain of pain when urinating as well as discharge from the penis or vagina.
If left untreated, gonorrhea can cause serious side effects including infertility and infection of the joints or blood.