The week in worry

Gonorrhea is dangerously close to being incurable

Once again, the number of reported gonorrhea infections in Sweden has increased, just as experts maintain that a strain could soon become incurable.

Despite various safe sex campaigns (and Swedish doctors hammering home how prevalent infections have become), statistics from Sweden’s Public Heath Agency demonstrate that by November 2016, 1,625 cases were reported — up from 1,535 the prior year.

The number of infections have more than doubled in the decades between 1995 and 2015.

“There are several factors which have contributed to the growth,” Public Health Agency’s Elin Jacobsson tells The Local.

“One of them is that more cases are detected now because access to tests has increased since ordering them online was made possible.”

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“Gonorrhea has lived in the shadow of chlamydia somewhat, which is the most common STD in Sweden, but since a few years back both chlamydia and gonorrhea can be detected by the same test.”

She’s worried awareness about the disease may still be too low.

“The number of cases of gonorrhea reported was generally low for a long time, which means that awareness about the infection could be low,” she explains. “It’s very important that people who have unprotected sex are offered tests and discussions about condom use.

She adds:

Condom usage is too low in Sweden: it has dropped since the 80s and 90s when the fear of HIV was high. Chlamydia is not perceived as similarly serious, and as a result of that the incentive to use condoms isn’t as high. We also know that the number of sexual partners during a lifetime has increased and people don’t always make a rational risk assessment.”

The real concern is that antibiotic treatments could stop working altogether, leading to incurable strains of gonorrhea.

“The increase is worrying because it could become incurable as multi-resistant bacteria grows,” she says. “For one kind of gonorrhea in particular there is currently only one kind of antibiotic which can cure it.”

“People are actively looking for new antibiotics, but we could end up in a situation where the cure which exists stops working.”