Gonorrhea is approaching incurability. It is rapidly becoming resistant to all known drugs—and may also be growing more virulent, as other diseases, like whooping cough, have.
The old standard lines of treatment for this bacterium, Neisseria gonorrhea, have fallen by the wayside. First, penicillin lost its ability to treat gonorrhea, then tetracyclines fell, then ciprofloxacin lost effectiveness, and now the newer treatment, cifixime, is nearly ineffective. The treatment now required is a combination of cephalosporins and a new antibiotic called azithromycin.
Even that, though, isn’t enough in all cases. Cases of gonorrhea that are resistant to every known antibiotic have appeared. But that may not be the worst news. Gonorrhea may be growing more virulent, as well. A report by the World Health Organization (WHO), titled “Antimicrobial resistance in Neisseria gonorrhoeae“, states:
Gonococci ‘use phase and antigenic variation to
change expression of many of their virulence de-
terminants, …modulate their virulence and adapt
to their changing environment’.
What this means is that the gonorrhea bacteria (gonococci) become more or less virulent, depending on environment. This is not an unusual trait of diseases. When a bacterium kills its host rapidly, it also kills the disease (in most cases), thus limiting its ability to spread. Therefore, the bacterium is likely to mutate into a milder disease. It may even change to the point of becoming a symbiotic part of our bodies.
An example of this changing virulence is The Great Pox. In the first years that it infected Europeans, it killed rapidly and with particularly grotesque skin symptoms, causing ulcers and horrific abscesses so deep they’d erode bone. Its rapid rate of spread and speed at killing its victims would have limited its survival.
However, The Great Pox mutated, and the disease is still with us. Now, it causes relatively mild symptoms in the early stages, usually a localized sore that heals and leaves no scar. Sometimes, it causes lymph infection or a flu-like response, indicative of the immune system responding. In some people, the immune system manages to destroy it. In most people, though, the bacterium remains in the body; it hides away in the nervous system. Then, years – even decades - later, it erupts again within the nervous system. It causes insanity and ultimately usually kills. By then, it’s likely had the opportunity to spread to many others.
The Great Pox is now called syphilis. It has survived because it’s milder and its victims live many years, which gives Trepenoma pallidum, the syphilis bacterium, a better chance of spreading and surviving.
Drug resistant and immune diseases are rapidly becoming the norm. We’re also seeing the advent of more virulent diseases resulting from vaccines, as in the case of whooping cough. And these are happening at the same time that people are becoming sicker and sicker with chronic diseases.
We’re on the cusp of an enormous disaster.
Read “Today’s Health Problems: Will Most Children Ever Know How Good Health Feels?” for a discussion of the causes and implications of these issues.