In the last couple of months we’ve seen headlines about three (yes, three) untreatable infections of super gonorrhoea.

The World Health Organization has called it a “very serious situation”, but how does a bacterial STI become untreatable, and what can we do to stop it?

What already works?

Antibiotics are medicines used to treat bacterial infections, in both humans and animals. Different antibiotics work in different ways, some stop the bacteria from forming the right cell structure, others stop the bacteria from producing proteins they need to survive, or stop the bacteria from copying their DNA when they multiply. At an increasing rate antibiotics are beginning to lose their effectiveness. We already have so called hospital superbugs like MRSA, which have a very limited number of treatment options. Through natural selection some bacteria can adapt and find ways to withstand the effects of an antibiotic. Those bacteria then become resistant and the same antibiotic won’t work to treat anyone else.

Why don’t we just make new antibiotics?

There are very few new antibiotics in development so it’s important we use the ones we have properly to keep them working in the future. Misuse or overuse of antibiotics by doctors and patients when they’re not needed can cause resistance. That means it’s urgent that we address antibiotic resistance, as it’s estimated that by 2050 there could be 10 million deaths a year from illnesses that we could previously treat with antibiotics. If antibiotics lose their effectiveness then eventually surgical operations like joint replacements, and chemotherapy treatment for cancer could become too dangerous to perform.

Can we prevent STIs from spreading?

Clearly condoms play a huge part in preventing the transmission of lots of STIs but in the last five years we’ve seen a rise in the number of infections reported in England. So we’re clearly having lots of sex and taking some form of risk. Before anyone starts waving a finger and brings up PrEP for the rise in STIs let’s look at the number of throat infections caused by gonorrhoea in men who have sex with men. Compared with 2012 the number of cases reported in England went up by over 90% with 3533 infections reported in 2016. So hands up if you’ve used a condom for every blowjob in your life? Yeah, didn’t think so. Yes, anyone taking PrEP and not using condoms will be at an increased risk of other STIs but they’re also advised to test regularly which means they can get treated as soon as possible and prevent passing any infections to their partners.

SPOILER: that’s what we all need to do…

What should I do?

Get tested regularly. Test every six months or as soon as you notice anything wrong, like pain or any discharge, and get treated so you won’t pass on the infection. The more we use an antibiotic the more bacteria become resistant to it. This is why it’s important to take antibiotics as they’re prescribed by a medical professional. They shouldn’t be saved for later, shared with someone else or taken if you haven’t been properly diagnosed. A doctor will make sure it’s the right drug and dose to make sure all the bacteria causing an infection are killed. Getting you back in the sack ASAP.