Credit: Prevention

Following a spike of multi-resistant gonorrhoea cases detected in Australia, the World Health Organization has alerted of an increase in untreatable gonorrhoea in Australia.

According to WHO, the cavalier use of antibiotics has already resulted in the extensive resistance to cheaper first-line treatments of the bacteria that cause sexually transmitted disease.

Shin Young Soo, WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific said if the pattern continued, it was only a matter of time before gonorrhoea became fully-resistant to the conventional medications used to treat it.

We are dealing with a serious issue with the implication that gonorrhoea may become untreatable, said Dr Shin.

This will have a major impact on our efforts to control the disease and will result in an increase in serious health-related complications.

Isolated cases of untreatable have occurred in China, Japan and also Australia, indicating the last-line treatment - oral cephalosporin - was also losing its effectiveness against the bacteria.

The disease is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoea or gonococcus, a bacterium that lives in the reproductive tract in women and the urine canal of both men and women.

It is passed from one person to another through unprotected intercourse and other sexual practices. If left untreated, it could cause infertility, ectopic pregnancy, pelvic inflammatory disease and infections in newborn babies.

The increase in multi-resistant strains proved that urgent actions need to be taken immediately for improved monitoring of community-level transmission of gonorrhoea, especially in developing countries, and new studies into alternative treatments, said Dr Shin.

There is no place for complacency with the possible emergence and spread of multi-drug resistant gonorrhoea, he said.

New treatments or alternative treatments for gonorrhoea, improving monitoring for anti-microbial resistance, and strengthening gonorrhoea prevention and management are urgently needed.

Just last month, a rise of gonorrhoea cases was reported in the New South Wales port city. About 41 people were newly diagnosed with the infection within the first few months of this year, compared to just 9 during the same period in 2009.

There is a high awareness about the benefits of condom use but it can be a very different story when it comes time to put that knowledge into practice, said Dr Treeny Ooi, sexual health director at Hunter New England Health.