Unregulated access to and overuse of antibiotics has contributed towards drug-resistant strains of gonorrhoea, which have now spread across the world.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has said that millions of patients could run out of treatment options unless doctors begin catching and treating cases of the disease earlier.

The announcement comes four years after scientists first reported a superbug strain of gonorrhoea in Japan, which was found to be resistant to all recommended antibiotics. Scientists further warned that a drug resistant strain could become a global health threat.

"Scientists further warned that a drug resistant strain could become a global health threat."

WHO department of reproductive health and research Dr Manjula Lusti-Narasimhan has said that gonorrhoea is now becoming a major public health challenge.

"The organism is what we term a superbug – it has developed resistance to virtually every class of antibiotics that exists. If gonococcal infections become untreatable, the health implications are significant," Lusti-Narasimhan commented at a briefing in Geneva, Switzerland.

As a result, the WHO has called for greater vigilance into the correct use of antibiotics, as well as further research into alternative treatments for the disease.

Alternatively, doctors could reduce the risk of greater resistance developing by treating gonorrhoea with combinations of two or more types of antibiotic at the same time, a technique currently used to treat tuberculosis by disrupting the way in which bacteria develop resistance.