Gonorrhea is becoming untreatable

Gonorrhea is the second-most commonly reported sexually transmitted disease in the United States. But no biggie, right? It's not like it's HIV or herpes — you know, one of those STDs that sticks with you for life. Just pop some antibiotics and you're good to go, right?

Wrong.

SciAm's Christine Gorman gives you the lowdown on the last thing you want to hear the week before Valentine's Day:

The arms race between humanity and disease-causing bacteria is drawing to a close-and the bacteria are winning. The latest evidence: gonorrhea is becoming resistant to all standard antibiotic treatment.

A few years ago, investigators started seeing cases of infection that did not easily respond to treatment with a group of drugs called cephalosporins, which are currently the last line of defense against this particular infection. Now, the number of drug-resistant cases has grown so much in the U.S. and elsewhere that gonorrheal infection may soon become untreatable, according to doctors writing in the February 9 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

More frightening, still, is that in the grand scheme of things, untreatable gonorrhea is just the tip of a potentially enormous drug-resistant iceberg. Recent discoveries — like a superbug gene, capable of causing a variety of bacteria to become resistant to antibiotics, in Delhi water supplies; and the advent of completely drug-resistant diseases ranging from pneumonia to tuberculosis — suggest that the sun may well be setting on the age of antibiotics (at least as we know it today).

Top image: Gonorrhea prodding a urethra with a pitchfork, from the 1973 venereal disease animated classic The Return of Count Spirochete.