Dr. Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan, of the WHO Department of Reproductive Health and Research, said several countries -- including Australia, France, Japan, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom -- are reporting cases of resistance to cephalosporin antibiotics, the last treatment option against gonorrhea.
An estimated 106 million people are infected each year with the sexually transmitted disease, Lusti-Narasimhan said.
"Gonorrhea is becoming a major public health challenge, due to the high incidence of infections accompanied by dwindling treatment options," Lusti-Narasimhan said in a statement. "The available data only show the tip of the iceberg. Without adequate surveillance we won't know the extent of resistance to gonorrhea and without research into new anti-microbial agents, there could soon be no effective treatment for patients."
WHO is calling for greater vigilance on the correct use of antibiotics and more research into alternative treatment regimens for gonococcal infections, Lusti-Narasimhan said.
"We are very concerned about recent reports of treatment failure from the last effective treatment option -- the class of cephalosporin antibiotics -- as there are no new therapeutic drugs in development," Lusti-Narasimhan said. "If gonococcal infections become untreatable, the health implications are significant."