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"Huge concern" about spread of super-resistant gonorrhea

Health officials in the U.K. say a man contracted a strain of gonorrhea that is resistant to multiple dugs used to treat the infection. The "super-resistant" infection is the first case of its kind in the country, and raises concerns about the growing problem of bacteria that don't respond to standard treatments.

According to a case report from Public Health England, researchers are trying to trace the origin of the infection. The man, who was not named, had a regular partner in the U.K. but picked up the infection after traveling in Southeast Asia and having sexual contact with a woman there.

"We are investigating a case who has gonorrhea which was acquired abroad and is very resistant to the recommended first line treatment," Dr. Gwenda Hughes or Public Health England, said in a statement.

First-line treatment consists of a combination of two antibiotics, azithromycin and ceftriaxone.

Hughes said this is the first time a case of gonorrhea has "displayed such high-level resistance to both of these drugs and to most other commonly used antibiotics."

Gonorrhea is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world and can be spread by having unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone who is infected. Each year across the globe, 78 million people are infected with gonorrhea, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports, though experts believe that number is likely much higher.

In recent years, gonorrhea has been getting harder and harder to treat due to the rise of antibiotic resistance.

"The bacteria that cause gonorrhea are particularly smart. Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them," Dr. Teodora Wi, a WHO medical officer specializing in reproductive health, said in a statement last year.

Officials in the U.K. say the man's infection may respond to one last antibiotic. He is currently undergoing treatment and will be tested again next month.

So far, no other cases of this super-resistant gonorrhea have been reported in the U.K. The man's British partner does not have the infection.

Dr. Olwen Williams, the president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, told the BBC that the "emergence of this new strain of highly resistant gonorrhea is of huge concern and is a significant development."

Public Health England is using the case study as an opportunity to remind the public of the importance of practicing safe sex.

"It is better to avoid getting or passing on gonorrhea in the first place and everyone can significantly reduce their risk by using condoms consistently and correctly with all new and casual partners. Anyone who thinks they may have been at risk should seek an STI screen at a sexual health clinic," the agency said.