For the first time ever scientists have found a vaccine that protects against gonorrhoea. It is being touted as a potential solution to the growing problem of ‘super gonorrhoea’ that is impervious to antibiotics.
The University of Auckland team stumbled upon the injection, which as a side effect seems to be able to cut gonorrhoea cases by up to a third, even though it was not initially administered to treat the STI.
There is growing fear by medical experts that antibiotics are eventually going to become redundant in the fight against super-strains of gonorrhea, and with 78 million people worldwide contracting it every year, we need to find an answer as a matter of urgency.
Dr Teodora Wi, Officer of Human Reproduction at World Health Organisation, said: “The bacteria that cause gonorrhoea are particularly smart. Every time we use a new class of antibiotics to treat the infection, the bacteria evolve to resist them.”
And Dr Marc Sprenger, Director of Antimicrobial Resistance at WHO agreed that in terms of longer term protection (the human body does not build up resistance even if you are infected numerous times), a vaccine is needed.
So a team of researchers started looking at a vaccine that was originally used in an emergency meningitis B campaign between 2004 and 2006, when approximately one million people in New Zealand were immunised to stem an outbreak.
Analysing data from sexual health clinics, they found that from a pool of 15,000 young people, those who had been given this Meningitis B jab, were 31% less likely to be a gonorrhoea case.
The reason for this, they speculate, is because the bacteria that causes meningitis is a very close relative of the species that causes gonorrhoea, and the jab was giving cross-protection.
Lead author Helen Petousis-Harris said, in The Lancet journal: “It’s quite probably real.”
At this stage the findings are just observational and need to be studied further in clinical trials but researchers in Quebec also say they saw the same phenomenon after a meningitis outbreak there.
And previously published data from Cuba and Norway also hint of the vaccine’s unexpected benefit.
“While it is still very early days, these findings represent a positive step in the search for a vaccine against this common and distressing disease that is increasingly resistant to antibiotic treatment,” said Robin Gaitens, a spokeswoman for GSK, which owns the product that contains this meningitis component.
Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection that can infect the genitals, rectum, and throat. Complications of gonorrhoea disproportionately affect women, including pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility, as well as an increased risk of HIV.