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n the good old days — way back in early 2012 — people who contracted gonorrhea were given a single pill to cure the infection. A newly published paper shows that a time is fast approaching when a far more onerous course of medical care may be required to get rid of a bacterium that seems hell-bent on becoming untreatable.

Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bug that causes gonorrhea, has relentlessly vanquished every antibiotic medical practice has used against it. The current recommended cure — an injection of a drug called ceftriaxone, given in combination with a second antibiotic, azithromycin — is the last good option to treat this infection, and there are already signs that its days may be numbered.

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  • Helen Branswell’s article, “A case study in the fast-rising threat of antibiotic resistance” (2018), is a frightening reminder of the danger that antibiotic resistance poses to human health. To think that previously treatable diseases like gonorrhea could once again become serious medical threats is shocking and disheartening.

    It took eight weeks and a whopping four different antibiotics to treat the man in Branswell’s article for a simple case of gonorrhea. Physicians agree that a primary driver of cases like this is antibiotic misuse.

    Drug-resistant gonorrhea is one piece of a much larger problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 2 million Americans are infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria and 23,000 die as a result each year.

    Surprisingly, approximately 70% of medically-important antibiotics sold in the US are used on farm animals, in most cases when the animals aren’t even sick. The antibiotic resistant bacteria that arise from misuse can have serious ramifications for human health. A recent study estimated that by 2050, antibiotic-resistant bacteria may kill more people every year than cancer does today (Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, 2014). Clearly it’s time to stop the overuse of antibiotics across the board, in human healthcare and on industrial farms.

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