Australia has experienced a sharp increase in the number of drug resistant gonorrhoea cases, reinforcing worldwide concern over the spread of the sexually-transmitted disease.
A report, released Tuesday by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, shows samples of gonorrhoea resistant to antibiotic azithromycin nearly trebled within six months last year.
Professor John Turnidge, Senior Medical Advisor for the Antimicrobial Use and Resistance in Australia, says the figures are concerning because the research shows resistance to azithromycin reduces the protection provided by the mainstay antibiotic treatment for gonorrhoea ceftriaxone.
“Our mainstay therapy is not one we want to lose because then we have to go back to our not so nice antibiotics and dust them all off and try to make them work again,” Prof Turnidge said.
The latest six-monthly report of the National Alert System for Critical Antimicrobial Resistance (CARAlert) reveals 742 reports of critically resistant bacteria were lodged from April 1 to September 30, 2017.
This represents a 75 per cent increase on the 423 cases reported in the same period a year earlier.
The bulk of the rise was caused by a sharp increase in the number of reports of gonorrhoea showing resistance to azithromycin, part of the dual (two-drug) recommended therapy introduced in 2014 for treating the infection.
Reports of this strain of gonorrhoea rose by 182 per cent over the same period, from 121 to 342.
While the dual treatment strategy appears to be working, the report should act as a warning to the medical profession that the protective effect of ceftriaxone is slowly being lost, Prof Turnidge said.
“We are going to be have to be very careful that we don’t start losing our ceftriaxone treatment because literally we will be dusting off old antibiotics which are harder to get, more expensive and more toxic,” he said.