Efforts to curb the spread of a sexually transmitted ‘superbug’ aren’t working, new figures have revealed.
Super-gonorrhoea may have become untreatable after more cases have been reported this year, experts fear.
Initial cases of the outbreak – with the first reported patient in Leeds before it was found to have spread to the West Midlands, South of England and London – were among heterosexuals.
But in a report issued by Public Health England, it revealed the infection is also spreading between men who have sex with men.
Super-gonorrhoea is spreading between men who have sex with men and not just heterosexuals like previously thought, a new report by Public Health England has revealed
So far there have been 17 cases of HL-AziR gonorrhoea reported in 2016, compared to 15 instances in the previous year.
The report also stated there have been 48 confirmed cases of the bug since November 2014.
Patients are treated with a jab, known as ceftriaxone, then by a pill called azithromycin.
But the super-resistant form of the bug is believed to have developed a resistance to the second drug.
With no other medication in reserve, health officials have previously urged the public to limit casual sex and wear condoms with a new partner.
The report stated: ‘The outbreak of HL-AziR gonorrhoea in England persists.
‘Gonorrhoea can develop resistance rapidly, therefore dual therapy is recommended because simultaneous development of resistance to both drug classes is unlikely, and first-line treatment will remain effective.
‘If azithromycin becomes ineffective against gonorrhoea, there is no “second lock” to prevent or delay the emergence of ceftriaxone resistance, and gonorrhoea may become untreatable.’
With no other treatments available, health officials have previously urged the public to limit casual sex and wear condoms with a new partner
Sexual health charity FPA’s chief executive, Natika Halil, said the report ‘highlights the importance of testing so that cases can be diagnosed early’.
She added: ‘Condoms remain the best way to help prevent STIs being passed on so it’s important to find the right condoms for you, which might mean trying a few different shapes and sizes.
‘We also want to banish this stubborn idea that women shouldn’t be carrying condoms and it’s a man’s role.
‘Carrying them also means you’ll be more prepared in the moment, and less likely to take a risk and have unprotected sex.
‘We also need to ensure people know how to access sexual health information so they are informed about what STIs are, how they are passed on, what signs and symptoms there may be – or may not be – and how to get help when you need it.
WHAT IS GONORRHOEA?
Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus.
It is the second most common STD after chlamydia and annual cases have risen by a fifth, and some experts link this to a rise in casual sex.
The bacteria are mainly found in discharge from the penis and in vaginal fluid.
Gonorrhoea is easily passed between people through:
- unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex
- sharing vibrators or other sex toys that haven’t been washed or covered with a new condom each time they’re used
Typical symptoms of gonorrhoea include a thick green or yellow discharge from the vagina or penis or pain when urinating.
Previous successful treatment for gonorrhoea doesn’t make you immune to catching the infection again.
Source: NHS Choices
‘Of course, backing all this up should be statutory sex and relationships education, which the government has still not implemented, and easy access to sexual health services.
‘With ever-shrinking public health budgets and increasing pressure on local authorities to meet people’s varied health needs, this is no longer a given and is a cause of real concern.’
The first documented case in the world of treatment failure to both ceftriaxone and azithromycin was reported in July this year.
A British man who had just returned from Japan showed signs of the bug in his throat despite no signs of the infection in his urine more than two weeks after he began treatment.
It was only after doctors doubled the dose, the unidentified man finally became clear of the infection – three months later.
Officials warn many people may have the virus without realising as more than half of women and one in ten men never see symptoms so may pass on the infection unaware.
But they are at risk of serious complications and if left untreated, the disease can cause infertility or inflammation of the womb.
It is also particularly dangerous for pregnant women and may lead to miscarriage, premature labour or sight problems in the baby.
There were 34,958 confirmed infections in England during 2014, most commonly in the under-25s, up from 29,419 the previous year.
But the spread of this ‘super’ sexually transmitted disease is further evidence of the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant bugs.
For decades, antibiotics have been so overused by GPs and hospital staff that the bacteria have evolved to become resistant.
Doctors report medicines including penicillin no longer work on sore throats, skin infections and more seriously, pneumonia.
Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies claimed earlier this year that the threat is as severe as terrorism – with patients dying from minor cuts after succumbing to drug-resistant bugs.
And former Chancellor George Osborne previously said antibiotic-resistant bacteria will claim ten million deaths a year worldwide by 2050 – even more than cancer.