A new strain of the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea has been discovered in Japan. This strain, named H041, has been found resistant to all current existing forms of antibiotics.

To gain this information researchers have studied and analyzed 10 years’ worth of gonorrhea samples from 2000 to 2010 from male carriers in 30 cities across the United States through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Gonococcal Isolate Surveillance Project.

“This is both an alarming and a predictable discovery,” Dr. Magnus Unemo said in a statement regarding the “superbug” H041. Unemo, based at the Swedish Reference Laboratory for Pathogenic Neisseria, worked with Japanese colleagues to characterize the new H041 drug-resistant strain of gonorrhea.

“Multidrug resistance is ‘predictable,’ in Unemo’s words, because most gonorrhea strains worldwide are already resistant to at least one major class of antibiotics. Bacteria become resistant to antibiotics through evolution. Some naturally occurring genetic variation exists among Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacterial organism that causes gonorrhea, and that means that any one given bacterium may, by chance, be slightly more susceptible to antibiotics than another. When a colony of bacteria first comes in contact with antibiotics, therefore, the antibiotics will kill off the most susceptible bacteria at higher rates. This leaves behind a disproportionately robust batch of surviving bacteria, and when the survivors reproduce, they pass on their more-robust-than-average genes to their offspring. With repeated exposure to antibiotics, and over many generations of bacteria, eventually all the bacteria that are spreading are drug-resistant.” claims Healthland.

In the United States there have been strains of gonorrhea that have been resistant to penicillin and tetracycline since the 1970s which had become widespread by the early 1980s. Since then most Neisseria gonorrhea have also become resistant to fluoroquinolines.

Gonorrhea often causes painful intercourse, swollen testicles, and pain when urinating. If left untreated, gonorrhea can lead to internal scarring, pelvic inflammatory disease or even lifelong infertility.

“The potential emergence of gonococcal cephalosporin resistance is of particular concern because the U.S. gonorrhea control strategy relies upon effective antibiotic therapy,” the CDC announced Friday. “No other well-studied and effective antibiotic treatment options or combinations currently are available [once the bacteria are resistant to cephalosporins].”
As for H041, the strain found in Japan: “While it is still too early to assess if this new strain has become widespread, the history of newly emergent resistance in the bacterium suggests that it may spread rapidly unless new drugs and effective treatment programs are developed,” Unemo said in his statement.

Replacement antibiotics have not yet been discovered, but microbiologist Dr. Vanessa Allen of Public Health Ontario states that a couple of drug companies are working hard to develop one.

Work is currently underway to develop a vaccine for this new drug-resistant strain.