Image courtesy of Women's Health

Scrunch your nose, curl your toes, and cross your legs--experts say that gonorrhea may soon be resistant to its only known treatment. Not good, considering the bacterial infection--which can be transmitted unknowingly through vaginal, oral, or anal sex--is estimated to infect more than 700,000 people in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"We could be facing the real possibility of untreatable gonorrhea [in the U.S.]," says Robert Kirkcaldy, M.D., M.P.H., medical epidemiologist and antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea expert at the CDC's Division of STD Prevention. "It's scary to think about."

In recent years, effective treatment options for the newest strain of drug-resistant gonorrhea have dwindled down to one: the injectable antibiotic cefriazoxone, recommended in conjunction with an oral antibiotic. That's because the bacteria that cause gonorrhea mutate quickly and develop resistance to antibiotics quite rapidly. "Antibiotic resistance is a very serious public health and medical problem that we are facing, and the bacteria that cause gonorrhea are among infections we're very worried about," says Kirkcaldy. (It's true, antiobiotic resistance is on the rise. Learn Why Antibiotics Won't Cure This Common Condition.)

It gets worse: the very real threat of a national health epidemic comes at a time when few new antibiotics are being developed.

So what now? According to Kirkcaldy, the CDC is urging drug companies to research new drugs, and new combinations of existing drugs to buy time, while an ongoing clinical trial is expected to provide some additional options, as well. In the meantime, your best line of defense: don't get gonorrhea.

Know Your Risk

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, women have a 60-80% risk of contracting the clap after just one one-night stand with a man who has it. While symptoms depend on which part of your body is infected--such as your lady parts, anus, eyes, mouth, or throat--pain when you pee or vaginal discharge are fairly common. That said, the infection is asymptomatic in 50% of female carriers, so it can easily be passed along unknowingly. Left untreated, the STI can trigger chronic pelvic pain, pregnancy complications, and even infertility in women--not to mention an increased risk of contracting HIV. Men are equally unlucky: common symptoms include uncomfortable urination and discharge from the penis--symptoms you won't necessarily know when you see. (Could you spot an STD? Learn The Symptoms of 5 Common STDs.)

Protect Yourself

The CDC says the best way to prevent the sexually transmitted infection is by--duh--not having sex. If that's not an option, using condoms correctly and consistently with a mutually monogamous, uninfected partner is a surefire way to stay gonorrhea-free. Additionally, the CDC recommends that at-risk, sexually active women (e.g., those with new or multiple sex partners) undergo annual screenings to detect (and prevent passing along) asymptomatic infections. (Preventative screenings aren't just for your sexual health: learn to spot early warning signs of serious conditions with The 10 Self-Checks Every Woman Should Do.)

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