Strains of the disease that are resistant to the class of antibiotic drugs called cephalosporins have appeared in several countries. While no cases of resistant gonorrhea have been reported in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that laboratory studies are detecting growing signs of resistance.
According to the New York Times:
“The trends ... are concerning, because cephalosporin drugs are the fourth type of antibiotic used to treat gonorrhea since the 1940s. Resistance to penicillin and tetracycline occurred during the 1970s and became widespread during the early 1980s, the CDC reported. More recently, the disease became resistant to a class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones, and in 2007 the government stopped recommending those drugs for gonorrhea treatment. That left cephalosporin drugs as the last line of defense against gonorrhea.”
Antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea first emerged when I was in medical school in the late 1970s. I remember the event very clearly and by the 1980s the antibiotics penicillin and tetracycline were no longer effective against it. Next, gonorrhea resistant to fluoroquinolone antibiotics emerged, leaving only one class of antibiotic drugs, cephalosporins, left to treat it.
Now, it looks like the sophisticated bacteria responsible for gonorrhea are mutating again and developing resistance to this last line of treatment. Although cases of cephalosporin-resistant gonorrhea have not yet shown up in the United States, it is already circulating in Japan and Europe -- a similar trend to what happened when the last widespread resistance developed. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stated:
"Resistance was documented first in Asia, then emerged in the United States in Hawaii followed by other western states. It then became prevalent in all other regions of the United States."
Remember that Antibiotics Trend Toward Eventual Failure
Antibiotics are, one by one, losing their effectiveness against Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that cause gonorrhea, as well as many other common bacterial infections. In essence, in the war of antibiotics versus bacteria, the bacteria are clearly winning ...
As much as I stress that antibiotic use needs to be minimized, this is one class of drugs that I do not want to fall off the radar.
When used properly, in the correct contexts and with responsibility, antibiotics can and do save lives that are threatened by bacterial infections. But there is one important variable that wasn't considered when the widespread use of these "miracle medicines" began, and that is that bacteria aren't stupid. They are clearly capable of outsmarting antibiotics, and they are doing so with a vengeance.
As the CDC's National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System stated:
"Antibiotics kill or inhibit the growth of susceptible bacteria. Sometimes one of the bacteria survives because it has the ability to neutralize or evade the effect of the antibiotic; that one bacteria can then multiply and replace all the bacteria that were killed off.
Exposure to antibiotics therefore provides selective pressure, which makes the surviving bacteria more likely to be resistant. In addition, bacteria that were at one time susceptible to an antibiotic can acquire resistance through mutation of their genetic material or by acquiring pieces of DNA that code for the resistance properties from other bacteria.
The DNA that codes for resistance can be grouped in a single easily transferable package. This means that bacteria can become resistant to many antimicrobial agents because of the transfer of one piece of DNA."
Bacteria are, in essence, hard-wired to adapt to threats such as antibiotics and, as such, there has been talk that the "end of antibiotics" is near. Writing in the Guardian, for example, editor and columnist Sarah Boseley said:
"The era of antibiotics is coming to a close. In just a couple of generations, what once appeared to be miracle medicines have been beaten into ineffectiveness by the bacteria they were designed to knock out."
The Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium is only one example; there are already numerous bacteria resistant to many commonly prescribed antibiotics, including:
Acinetobacter: A bacteria found in soil and water that often causes infections in seriously ill hospital patients. Anthrax: Spread by infected animals or potentially bioterrorist weapons. Group B streptococcus: A common bacteria in newborns, the elderly and adults with other illnesses. Klebsiella pneumonia: A bacteria that can lead to pneumonia, bloodstream infections, wound and surgical site infections and meningitis. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA): A superbug that can be so difficult to treat, it can easily progress from a superficial skin infection to a life-threatening infection in your bones, joints, bloodstream, heart valves, lungs, or surgical wounds. Neisseria meningitides: One of the leading causes of bacterial meningitis in children and young adults. Shigella: An infectious disease caused by Shigella bacteria. Streptococcus pneumoniae: A leading cause of pneumonia, bacteremia, sinusitis, and acute otitis media (AOM). Tuberculosis (TB): Both "multi-drug resistant" and "extensively drug-resistant" forms of TB are now being seen. Typhoid fever: A life-threatening illness caused by the Salmonella Typhi bacteria. Vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE): Infection with the enteroccocci bacteria that often occurs in hospitals and is resistant to vancomycin, an antibiotic. Vancomycin-Intermediate/Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (VISA/VRSA): Various strains of staph bacteria that are resistant to vancomycin.
What are the Consequences of Untreated Gonorrhea?
Gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease that impacts about 700,000 people in the United States every year. Once infected with the bacteria, you may have no symptoms at all or you could experience pain and burning while urinating, increased urinary frequency, discharge from the penis or vagina, sore throat, and pain or tenderness in the abdomen or testicles.
It is likely only a matter of time before antibiotics become useless against this disease, so prevention is your best option. Once a culture comes back positive for gonorrhea, the go-to treatment is currently antibiotics. But if that is not effective, the bacteria can continue to grow unchecked, leading to serious complications including:
Scarring of the fallopian tubes or urethra Abscesses Trouble getting pregnant, ectopic pregnancy or infertility Pelvic inflammatory disease Urination problems or urinary tract infection Kidney failure For pregnant women, passing the disease to the baby Long-term joint pain Heart valve infection and meningitis
How Can You Prevent Gonorrhea?
Since gonorrhea is a sexually transmitted disease (STD), the best route of prevention is abstinence, or restricting sex to a monogamous relationship with a person who does not have any STDs. Condom use can also help lower your risk of catching an STD like gonorrhea.
It is best to avoid exposure to Neisseria gonorrhoeae in the first place, but as with all "germs" (bacteria, viruses, etc.), if you do come into contact with it, it is the state of your immune system -- not the bacteria or virus itself -- that eventually determines whether or not you will get sick. It is important to recognize that not everyone exposed to the bacteria will get sick as that requires a compromised immune system of some sort.
It is my belief, and that of nearly all natural health care practitioners, that these infectious agents only serve as triggers to cause the illness, but what is required or responsible for the actual infection is a dysfunctional immune system.
When I lecture, I frequently use the analogy of disease to darkness and health to light. If you shine a light in a dark room it is not dark anymore. Darkness and light simply can't coexist. Similarly if you are healthy you can have exposure to infectious agents and you simply will NOT get sick. Just like light and darkness it is very difficult, if not impossible in most cases, for a strong immune system and infectious disease to exist together. So part of the prevention method for gonorrhea or any other infectious disease is to build up your immune system health by:
- Following a healthy diet: See my comprehensive nutrition plan for advice on what foods to eat to support a healthy immune response. This includes as many foods as possible in their raw, whole unprocessed state -- ideally organic, biodynamic foods that have been grown locally, and are therefore in season.
- Avoiding fructose and sugar: Sugar, including fructose, decreases the function of your immune system almost immediately. So reducing (or preferably eliminating) fructose and other added sugars, as well as limiting grain carbohydrates from your diet, is a primary priority to boost your immune function.
- Getting plenty of vitamin D: If you're vitamin-D-deficient, and many are, your immune system will not activate to do its job. Vitamin D functions in many different tissues and affects a large number of different diseases and health conditions. So far, scientists have found about 3,000 genes that are regulated by vitamin D.
Just one example of an important gene that vitamin D up-regulates is your ability to fight infections, including the flu. It produces over 200 antimicrobial peptides, the most important of which is cathelicidin, a naturally occurring broad-spectrum antibiotic. At least five studies show an inverse association between lower respiratory tract infections and vitamin D levels. Vitamin D has even been shown to tackle one of the most prolific antibiotic-resistant bugs out there -- methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA.
To find out more, including your best sources of vitamin D, dosing and what proper levels should be, please watch my free one-hour lecture.
- Exercising: It's a well-known fact that exercise improves the circulation of immune cells in your blood. The job of these cells is to neutralize pathogens throughout your body. The better these cells circulate, the more efficient your immune system is at locating and defending against viruses and diseases trying to attack your body.
Exercise has repeatedly been proven to benefit your immune system over the long haul, but it's crucial to treat exercise like a drug that must be properly prescribed, monitored and maintained for you to enjoy the most benefits. Essentially, you need to have a varied routine that includes Sprint 8 exercises, strength training, core-building exercises and stretching.
There are other steps you can take to bolster your immune system as well, and I've detailed many of the secrets to not getting sick here.
What Can You do to Help Stop the Spread of Antibiotic-Resistant Disease?
Bacterial infections like gonorrhea may soon become deadly once again if antibiotics are rendered useless. So what can you do to help? You can help yourself and your community by using antibiotics only when absolutely necessary and also only purchasing organic, antibiotic-free meats and other foods; the excessive use of antibiotics in food production is actually a greater contributor to antibiotic-resistant disease than medical overuse.
Avoiding all unnecessary antibiotics is an important step that I urge everyone to take, even though ultimately the problem of antibiotic-resistance needs to be stemmed through public policy on a nationwide level.
If you live in the United States and want to get involved on a national level, Food Democracy Now! has created a petition against the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production. If you care about this issue, I suggest you use this petition to make your voice heard. In the same way numerous prior bills have been shot out of the water as a direct result of public outcry, your action can put the kibosh on this one as well.
You can also help stop antibiotic overuse and curb the spread of antibiotic-resistant disease by telling the FDA and the White House to stand up for human health by changing their policies about the reckless use of antibiotics in animal feed. In the end, we're all in this fight against antibiotic-resistant bacteria together, and the more people who get involved in stopping the spread of unnecessary antibiotic use the better.