We live in a very advanced world: Technology is evolving; the iPhone is bringing us new emojis. Unfortunately, our tech isn't the only thing that's getting smarter: Recently the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that certain types of gonorrhea are now virtually untreatable, thanks to antibiotic resistance. These strains are spreading through Japan, France, and Spain.
Beyond these three countries, STIs are becoming resistant to more and more of the antibiotics used to treat them. In the past, most antibiotic-resistant strains gonorrhea could still be treated by using a combination of the drugs ceftriaxone and oral azithromycin or doxycycline. These new strains are the first to respond to noantibiotics whatsoever. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and WHO are funding research to develop new treatments, with three drugs and a vaccine in the works, says Patrice Harold, M.D., director of minimally invasive gynecology at Detroit Medical Center's Hutzel Women's Hospital.
So what should you do? Unfortunately, while these treatments are still in development, there's really only one thing to focus on: being extra careful not to contract gonorrhea in the first place. Using barriers is extremely important—and not just for vaginal sex; you can also get gonorrhea from oral or anal sex. You should also prioritize getting tested every year, since the strains currently in the U.S. are still treatable. And, of course, make sure both you and your partners have been tested before you have sex.
If you end up with gonorrhea, your doctor will probably prescribe ceftriaxone and oral azithromycin or doxycycline, which still work in the large majority of cases. The only situation that should concern you is if you go through the treatment and are still seeing symptoms, says Dr. Harold. In that case, go back to the doctor's for a "test of cure"—a test of the original site of the STI to see if it's still there. (Mention to your doctor as well if you've had partners in Japan, France, or Spain).
If the gonorrhea's persisting, your doctor may prescribe a more aggressive multiagent antibiotic therapy like gentamicin IV plus azithromycin. Chances are high that this will work. As of now most cases of gonorrhea are still treatable, Dr. Harold says—and she's hopeful that by the time the untreatable ones become more common, we'll have new drugs to address them. So don't freak out! But stay safe too.