Antibiotic resistance changes treatment for STIs

It is estimated that 131 million people are infected with chlamydia, 78 million with gonorrhoea, and 5.6 million with syphilis every year. These are the three most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and the WHO has issued new guidelines for their treatment in response to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance.

Chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis are all caused by bacteria and are generally curable with antibiotics but they often go undiagnosed and are becoming more difficult to treat, with some antibiotics now failing as a result of misuse and overuse.

Resistance of these STIs to the effect of antibiotics has increased rapidly in recent years and has reduced treatment options. Of the 3 STIs, gonorrhoea has developed the strongest resistance to antibiotics. Strains of multidrug-resistant gonorrhoea that do not respond to any available antibiotics have already been detected. Antibiotic resistance in chlamydia and syphilis, though less common, also exists, making prevention and prompt treatment critical.

When left undiagnosed and untreated, these STIs can result in serious complications and long-term health problems for women, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage, and untreated gonorrhoea and chlamydia can cause infertility in both men and women. Infection with chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis can also increase a person’s risk of being infected with HIV two- to three-fold. An untreated STI in a pregnant woman increases the chances of stillbirth and newborn death.

Download the guidance for treating these sexually transmitted infections from the who.int website