New treatment advice for three common STDs

The U.N health agency says three common sexually-transmitted infections are increasingly resistant to antibiotics It’s calling on doctors and patients to make sure the right drugs and doses are used, to try to prevent the problem from getting worse.

The World Health Organization on Tuesday updated its treatment guidelines for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, which together infect more than 200 million people every year.

“Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis are major public health problems worldwide, affecting millions of peoples’ quality of life, causing serious illness and sometimes death,” Ian Askew, Director of Reproductive Health and Research for WHO, said in a statement. “The new WHO guidelines reinforce the need to treat these STIs with the right antibiotic, at the right dose, and the right time to reduce their spread and improve sexual and reproductive health. To do that, national health services need to monitor the patterns of antibiotic resistance in these infections within their countries.” 

This is the first such WHO update since 2003, due in part to low past budgets and priority levels, and to growing scientific data.

Medical officer Teodora Wi called gonorrhea a “very smart bug” that repeatedly adapts to new classes of antibiotics. It can infect the genitals, rectum, and throat. According to WHO, national health authorities should track the prevalence of resistance to different antibiotics in the strains of gonorrhoea circulating among their population and prescribe appropriately based on resistant patterns. Quinolones (a class of antibiotic) should not be used to treat gonorrhoea due to widespread high levels of resistance.

Syphilis​ is spread by contact with a sore on the genitals, anus, rectum, lips or mouth, or it can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy. WHO says mother-to-child transmission of syphilis resulted in over 200,000 early fetal deaths, stillbirths​ or neo-natal deaths in 2012.

The most effective form of treatment for syphilis, according to WHO, is a single dose of benzathine penicillin – a form of the antibiotic that is injected by a doctor or nurse into the infected patient’s buttock or thigh muscle. 

Chlamydia, the most common bacterial STI, can cause ailments like burning sensations while urinating. Doctors and patients should check WHO guidelines​ for specific recommendations of the types and doses of antibiotics to treat chlamydia.

When used correctly and consistently, condoms​ are one of the most effective methods to protect against these and other sexually-transmitted infections.