The delivery of effective antimicrobial therapy is essential for public health control of gonorrhoea, in the absence of a suitable vaccine. The antimicrobial agent chosen should have high efficacy and quality, lack toxicity and give >95% success when given empirically. Guidelines, which are informed by surveillance data, are used to aid clinicians in their choice of appropriate agent. Historically, gonorrhoea treatment has been delivered as a single, directly observed dose but this has resulted in failure of successive antimicrobial agents which have been replaced by a new antimicrobial to which resistance has been rare or non-existing. Following the drift towards decreased susceptibility and treatment failure to the extended spectrum cephalosporins, and the lack of ‘new’ alternative antimicrobials, the threat of difficult to treat or untreatable gonorrhoea has emerged. The challenge of maintaining gonorrhoea as a treatable infection has resulted in national, regional and global response or action plans. This review discusses different approaches to the future treatment of gonorrhoea including; use of ceftriaxone, the injectable cephalosporin at increased dosage; dual antimicrobial therapy; use of drugs developed for other infections and use of older agents, directed by rapid point of care tests, to susceptible infections. Finally, it is considered whether the time is right to readdress the possibility of developing an effective gonococcal vaccine, given the major advances in our understanding of natural infection, molecular pathogenesis and the revolution in molecular biology techniques.
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