30 Apr 2010

Gonorrhoea now almost a super-bug

3:57 pm on 30 April 2010

The World Health Organisation is warning that gonorrhoea may soon become untreatable.

The WHO says overuse of antibiotics has resulted in the sexually transmitted disease becoming increasingly resistant to drugs in many parts of the world.

University of New South Wales head of sexual health Professor Basil Donovan says the Western Pacific has become an incubator for the resistant strains.

He told the ABC: "Our region of the world really has been the incubator of gonorrhoea resistance for over 40 years really, ever since antibiotics became available."

"A lot of that is due to the fact that in many countries in our region, antibiotics are freely available.

"You can buy them at the market, you don't need a prescription. You don't even need a pharmacist."

Professor Donovan says antibiotics are often overused. "Quite often high-risk people might take small doses of them every day to prevent getting infected, which does work in the individual for a time," he said.

"[But] if you eventually do catch gonorrhoea, it will almost by definition be resistant to that antibiotic."

Professor Donovan says the university's sexual health programme is studying a steady feed of gonorrhoea strains from the Asia-Pacific region.

He says gonorrhoea has not yet become a super-bug, but it is getting close.

Professor Donovan says Australia needs better systems in place to help keep the disease under control. Better better monitoring systems and availability of the right antibiotics are needed.