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The Making of Medicine

Have You Heard About Super Gonorrhea?

It’s real, and you don’t want it. It’s gonorrhea that’s developed resistance to the antibiotics that would normally be used to treat it.

Our Alison K. Criss, PhD, is working on the problem. She and her collaborators in the United Kingdom have discovered a new way that the bacteria resist the body’s immune defenses. That sounds scary, but  it’s actually good news: Scientists can use this knowledge to develop vaccines or help our immune systems defeat the bug.

“Every time we think we understand how gonorrhea bacteria manage to survive and cause disease in people, we learn something new,” Dr. Criss said. “Our discovery is especially exciting because it opens up new ways to tackle the growing threat of untreatable gonorrhea.”

More than 78 million people get gonorrhea every year, and more than 800,000 of those people are in the United States. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 246,000 of those U.S. cases will be resistant to at least one antibiotic. That’s prompted CDC to label super gonorrhea an “urgent threat.”

Gonorrhea can lead to blindness, infertility and serious infections in the heart and nervous system, possibly even death. Thankfully, most cases are still treatable with antibiotics, but it’s good to have Dr. Criss and her colleagues on the case.

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