Doctors are warning that a drug-resistant strain of gonorrhea could be more deadly than AIDS, and are urging members of US Congress to spend $54 million for the development of a drug that would fight it.
"This might be a lot worse than AIDS in the short run because the bacteria is more aggressive and will affect more people quickly," Alan Christianson, a doctor of naturopathic medicine, told CNBC.
The new strain of gonorrhea, H041, was first discovered in 2009 after a sex worker fell victim to the superbug in Japan. Medical officials reported that the medication-resilient ‘sex superbug’ was discovered in Hawaii in May 2011, and has since spread to California and Norway, the International Business Times reports.
Nearly 30 million people die from AIDS-related causes each year, and the H041 superbug could have similar consequences, according to Alan Christianson, a doctor of naturopathic medicine.
"Getting gonorrhea from this strain might put someone into septic shock and death in a matter of days," Christianson said. "This is very dangerous."
The gonorrhea strain has not yet claimed any lives, but the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have asked Congress for $54 million to find an antibiotic to treat the strain.
In a Capitol Hill briefing last week, health officials said an education and public awareness campaign is crucial in minimizing the effective of HO41. William Smith, executive director of the National Coalition for STD Directors, said that if the ‘sex superbug’ spreads, it could quickly kill many people before a treatment is discovered. And that risk becomes increasingly more likely if Congress does not provide the funds to find a cure, he said.
"It's an emergency situation. As time moves on, it's getting more hazardous," he told members of Congress.
"We have to keep beating the drum on this," he added. "The potential for disaster is great."
In the United States, there are 20 million new STD infections each year, which results in about $16 billion in medical costs, the CDC reports. More than 800,000 of these cases gonorrhea infections, most of which occur in young people ages 15 to 24. Gonorrhea is sometimes difficult to detect, since it shows no symptoms in about half of all women. Those who fall ill to the deadly strain may not notice it until it’s too late.
“That’s what’s kind of scary about this,” Smith said.
Although health officials have widely reported that cases of H041 were discovered in California, Hawaii and Norway, the CDC has disputed those claims and told CNBC on Monday that the infection has not been confirmed anywhere outside of Japan. The CDC did, however, make an announcement in 2011 that it was noticing greater gonorrhea bacterial resistance to certain types of antibiotics in Hawaii and California.
CDC officials said that the US and Norwegian cases were treated effectively with antibiotics not routinely recommended and that these cases were mistakenly identified as H041. But the agency continues to urge Congress for research funding, indicating that the risk of infection is high regardless of where the cases occurred.
Christianson is urging people to practice safe sex and get STD tests if they are in a new relationship, since a superbug infection could be around the corner.
"This is a disaster just waiting to happen," he told CNBC. "It's time to do something about it before it explodes. These superbugs, including the gonorrhea strain, are a health threat. We need to move now before it gets out of hand."