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‘Super-gonorrhoea’ outbreak confirmed in north of England

By Will Stroude

Sexual health experts have put the UK on a ‘national alert’ after confirming that an outbreak of highly drug-resistant gonorrhoea has hit the north of England.

The new strain of the sexually-transmitted infection has proved resistant to one of the main antibiotic treatments, with twelve cases confirmed in Leeds and a further four reported in Macclesfield, Oldham and Scunthorpe, the BBC reports.


Experts say the strain of gonorrhoea exhibited by patients is able to shrug off the antibiotic azithromycin, which is normally used alongside another drug, ceftriaxone, and that there are likely to be more undiagnosed cases.

Peter Greenhouse, a consultant in sexual health based in Bristol, told BBC News: “This azithromycin highly resistant outbreak is the first one that has triggered a national alert.

“It doesn’t sound like an awful lot of people, but the implication is there’s a lot more of this strain out there and we need to stamp it out as quickly as possible.

“If this becomes the predominant strain in the UK we’re in big trouble, so we have to be really meticulous in making sure each of these individuals has all their contacts traced and treated.”

The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV says all cases so far have been reported in heterosexuals, but that some have reported sexual partners from across England.

Dr Jan Clarke, the organisation’s president, told the BBC: “It was sufficiently serious to alert our whole national chain of clinics that there is the possibility that we’ve got a very resistant strain of gonorrhoea.

“We are really skating on thin ice as far as treating gonorrhoea is concerned at the moment.”

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The news adds to growing concerns that common STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea, are becoming so prolific that they’re becoming drug-resistant and therefore untreatable. Between 2013 and 2014, alone, the number of gonorrhoea cases in England alone rose by 19%, from 29,419 cases to 34,958.

Among men who have sex with men (MSMs), new gonorrhoea infections increased from 13,629 cases to 18,029 in the same period.

The infection, which if left untreated can lead to infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease, is spread by unprotected vaginal, oral and anal sex.

Of those infected, about one in 10 heterosexual men and more than three-quarters of women and MSMs present no obvious symptoms. Symptoms can include a thick green or yellow discharge from sexual organs, pain when urinating and bleeding between periods.

The news comes just months after it was reported that STI infections among MSMs are soaring, despite falling overall for the general population.

Public Health England advises that MSMs to undergo HIV and STI testing every year, or every three months if they have sex without a condom or with casual partners.

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