Scanning electron micrograph of a single Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium, which causes the STD gonorrheaWiki Commons/ Dr Stephen Kraus

The bacteria that causes gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted infection (STI), has grown to become resistant to most forms of antibiotics. This disease is now on the verge of developing resistance to Ceftriaxone as well- the last known antibiotic that is still effective against it, also, there is no vaccine for it.

Ceftriaxone is also on the World Health Organization's "List of Essential Medicines" notes a report by MedicalXpress (MX). The finding was made by researchers at the UNC School of Medicine where researchers have identified a strain of mutations to Neisseria gonorrhea that gives it the ability to become Ceftriaxone resistant. This could lead to the global spread of superbug strains of gonorrhea that could just turn out to be untreatable.

How does one protect themselves against bacteria that can't be stopped? "The first step in stopping a drug-resistant bacterium is figuring out how it becomes resistant to antibiotics that once were able to kill it," said study co-senior author Robert Nicholas, PhD, professor and vice chair of UNC's Department of Pharmacology.

"Our results give us clues to how ceftriaxone-resistant gonorrhea is emerging, why this is such a looming problem, and what to focus on to limit it."

According to a WHO report over 1 million people get infected by some form of STI every single day, over 500 million new patients fall victim to some form of STIs every year.

Gonorrhea has been a public health issue for thousands of years, notes the MX report. While the number of new infections rose sharply in the US around the 1960s, it began to also fall rapidly as HIV/ AIDS pandemic took over the world around the same time. The report notes that gonorrhea cases have once again started to rise. There were over 800,000 cases per year in the U.S recorded. Gonorrhea cases over the globe are at about 80 million a year.

This vaccine-less disease can only be treated using antibiotics and since the 1980s, scientists have been fighting a losing battle with it. The report mentions that the bacteria that causes gonorrhea has the ability to quickly evolve resistance to antibiotics. The bacteria has been defeating one first line defense therapy after another quite consistently through the years.

It started by devouring penicillin, then progressed to tetracycline, then ciprofloxacin, and most lastly cefixime. As of now, the standard therapy is a combination of two drugs- the injectable ceftriaxone and oral azithromycin.

While gonorrhea is not yet widely resistant to ceftriaxone, the report mentions that two isolates –H041 and F89– have been shown to be completely resistant to the drug. This has now led scientists to believe that this strand of the bacteria might spread globally, making the disease possibly untreatable.

At this time, the importance of practicing safe sex cannot be more stressed.