Gonorrhea is the most commonly sexually transmitted disease caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, a bacterium that can grow and multiply easily. Since the 1940s, the disease known as "the clap" has been easily treated with antibiotics. But the new strain of Neisseria gonorrhoeae has genetically mutated to evade cephalosporins -- the only antibiotics still effective against the infection.
"Since antibiotics became the standard treatment for gonorrhea in the 1940s, this bacterium has shown a remarkable capacity to develop resistance mechanisms to all drugs introduced to control it," said Magnus Unemo of the Swedish Reference Laboratory for Pathogenic Neisseria.
Unemo, who discovered the strain with Makoto Ohnishi and his colleagues in samples from Kyoto, also described the new finding as both "alarming" and "predictable."
"Japan has historically been the place for the first emergence and subsequent global spread of different types of resistance in gonorrhea," he added.
"Based on the historical data ... resistance has emerged and spread internationally within 10 to 20 years."
"While it is still too early to assess if this new strain has become widespread, the history of newly emergent resistance in the bacterium suggests that it may spread rapidly unless new drugs and effective treatment programs are developed," Unemo continued.
The best way to reduce the risk of more resistance gonorrhea development is to treat the disease with combinations of two or more types of antibiotic at the same time, suggested the researchers.
They will present their findings at the 19th conference of the International Society for Sexually Transmitted Disease Research (ISSTDR) in Quebec City, Canada.