“The situation in Sweden is worrying,” Hans Fredlund, a doctor in charge of Communical Diseases and Prevention in the city of Örebro, told The Local. “We need new antibiotics effective against gonorrhea within a few years or the situation may become worse.”
Gonorrhea, a bacterial infection, leads to a burning sensation and a thick green or yellow discharge from the urethra or vagina. Untreated, it can lead to inflammation of the joints and heart valves. In a small number of cases, it can even be fatal.
Dr Fredlund said that Sweden had already recorded several cases of a new strain of ‘super-gonorrhea’, with bacteria resistant to azithromycin, one of the three most common antibiotics usually used to treat the sexually transmitted infection.
“The international antibiotic resistance situation is well known in Sweden and we have seen some azithromycin resistant strains, but also different other resistant strains,” he said.
“Doctors should…always take a bacterial culture to see which antibiotic will be best for treatment. For this reason it is important that all these patients should be treated and controlled by experienced venereologists, as we do.”
Fredlund's comments come after Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, wrote to all doctors this month, calling on them to make sure they were prescribing the right antibiotics, following the discovery of 'super-gonorrhoea' in Leeds in northern England March.
“Gonorrhoea is at risk of becoming an untreatable disease due to the continuing emergence of antimicrobial resistance,” she said.
Spread by unprotected vaginal, oral and anal sex, Gonorrhoea, was until recently most prevalent in Sweden among men who have sex with men, or Swedes who contracted the disease abroad, particularly in South East Asia.
But over the last decade the number of cases has more than doubled from 691 in 1995 to 1,545 in 2015, according to the latest figures from the Swedish Public Health Agency.
“What has happened in Sweden in recent years is that gonorrhea has become a disease diagnosed among young heterosexual persons who contracted the disease in Sweden,” Dr Fredlund said.
He warned that this could lead to a spike in its prevalence as a much larger group of people was now exposed to the bacteria.
The expert said that for public health officials the challenge was that warnings about safe sex needed to be imparted anew to each generation.
“Sex is a great instinct and each year there are new people starting their sex life,” he said. “Information campaigns should go on each year and safe sex messages should be given to all teenagers at school.”
“The most important thing is to not have casual unprotected sex,” he said. “If you have casual sex, use a condom!”