Gonorrhea's growing resistance to antibiotics could make treating the STD become much more complex, according to information presented this week at the Society for General Microbiology's spring meeting in Edinburgh, Scotland.

"If this problem isn't addressed, then there is a real possibility that gonorrhea will become a very difficult infection to treat," said Professor Catherine Ison of the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

"Choosing an effective antibiotic can be a challenge because the organism that causes gonorrhea is very versatile and develops resistance to antibiotics very quickly," Ison said. "Penicillin was used for many years until it was no longer effective, and a number of other agents have been used since.

"The current drugs of choice, ceftriaxone and cefixime, are still very effective but there are signs that resistance, particularly to cefixime, is emerging and soon these drugs may not be a good choice," Ison said.

Because few new drugs are available, "it is probable that the current use of a single dose may soon need to be revised, and treatment over several days or with more than one antibiotic will need to be considered," said Ison.

This change in approach, if it becomes medically necessary, will increase the likelihood that patients will not complete their treatment regimen, said Hugh Pennington, professor emeritus of bacteriology at Aberdeen University. "This could make [drug] resistance, which could lead to a superbug situation," he said.

HPA said that while there is no need to alter treatment for gonorrhea at present, it urges physicians to remain vigilant and encourages individuals to use condoms with new and casual sex partners.