by Dan Savage
on Mon, Jul 11, 2011 at 3:42 PM
A newly discovered strain of gonorrhea—H041—is "resistant to all known forms of antibiotics." The "untreatable" strain has only been found in Japan so far. But STIs—like people—tend to get around, so it's only a matter of time before the H041 makes its debut here.
I'm the current spokesperson for non-monogamy, thanks to the New York Times, but as was noted in Mark Oppenheimer's piece: I've never endorsed promiscuity. Freaked out monogamists like to portray my nuanced, qualified position on non-monogamy as, "That Dan Savage person thinks that everybody should be fucking everything anytime without any regards for the consequences!" Not true. I think people should be careful and take reasonable precautions. I also think it's possible for a person to have too much sex, and too much much risky sex. And risks—like, oh, drug-resistant strains of various STIs—always have to weighed against rewards, and an honest risk assessment doesn't always favor sex.
The sex-haters on the religious right are going to love this news. They love anything that makes sex seem scarier and deadlier than it actually is or need be. But before religious nuts start celebrating this new strain of gonorrhea—and working into their abstinence-only lesson plans—they should at least have the decency to acknowledge how it got that way:
"This is both an alarming and a predictable discovery," Dr. Magnus Unemo said in a statement about H041. Unemo, based at the Swedish Reference Laboratory for Pathogenic Neisseria, worked with Japanese colleagues to characterize the new H041 multidrug-resistant gonorrhea strain.
Multidrug resistance is "predictable," in Unemo's words, because most gonorrhea strains worldwide are already resistant to at least one major class of antibiotics. Bacteria become resistant to antibiotics through evolution. Some naturally occurring genetic variation exists among Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacterial organism that causes gonorrhea, and that means that any one given bacterium may, by chance, be slightly more susceptible to antibiotics than another. When a colony of bacteria first comes in contact with antibiotics, therefore, the antibiotics will kill off the most susceptible bacteria at higher rates. This leaves behind a disproportionately robust batch of surviving bacteria, and when the survivors reproduce, they pass on their more-robust-than-average genes to their offspring. With repeated exposure to antibiotics, and over many generations of bacteria, eventually all the bacteria that are spreading are drug-resistant.
It wasn't a miracle, kids, it was evolution. Darwin, not Jesus.