Super-gonorrhoea is back: Health chiefs spot another three cases of antibiotic-resistant STI

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Super-gonorrhoea is back: Health chiefs spot another three cases of antibiotic-resistant STI

  • Health chiefs said woman in her 20s from London was diagnosed with superbug
  • And a couple, also in their 20s, from the Midlands were found to be infected
  • Health chiefs warned it was too soon to say if the strain was spreading in the UK 


Another three cases of gonorrhoea resistant to a crucial antibiotic have been spotted in the UK, health chiefs say.

In one case from London, an unidentified woman in her 20s was found to have an infection resistant to ceftriaxone — the main antibiotic used to treat the disease.

And in the Midlands, a heterosexual couple in their 20s were also diagnosed with infections resistant to this drug.

UK Health Security Agency officials, who revealed the diagnoses, said the patients caught the disease last month and were now receiving alternative treatments. It is not clear whether the cases are linked.

Medics are told to prescribe two antibiotics — ceftriaxone or azithromycin — to treat gonorrhoea infections.

But there is mounting concern that should the resistant to these become widespread, then the treatments will be made ineffective.

Britain has now recorded four ceftriaxone-resistant gonorrhoea infections in three months, after a man from London in his 20s was also found to have a ceftriaxone-resistant infection in November. It was cleared with other treatments.

Dr Katy Sinka, who leads on STIs at the UKHSA, said it was ‘too soon to say’ whether gonorrhoea resistant to this antibiotic was spreading in the country.

An unidentified woman in her 20s from London and a heterosexual couple, also in their 20s, from the Midlands were diagnosed with the superbug (stock)

 An unidentified woman in her 20s from London and a heterosexual couple, also in their 20s, from the Midlands were diagnosed with the superbug (stock)

Gonorrhoea is the second most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) in Britain, and is spread via unprotected sex.

People infected with the bacteria tend to have a thick green or yellow discharge from their vagina or penis and experience pain when urinating. 

If left untreated, the disease can lead to serious complications including infertility and potentially life-threatening pelvic inflammatory disease in women. In pregnant women, it can also cause permanent blindness for newborns.

WHAT IS GONORRHOEA?

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus.

This bacteria is usually found in discharge from the penis or vaginal fluid.

It is passed through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, as well as sharing vibrators or sex toys that have been used without a condom.

The bacteria can infect the cervix, urethra, rectum, throat or eyes.

It can also spread from pregnant women to their unborn babies.

As the bacteria cannot survive outside the body for long, gonorrhoea is not spread by kissing, hugging, sharing towels, toilet seats or swimming.

Around one in 10 men and half of women experience no symptoms. 

However, these can include:

  • Thick green or yellow discharge from the genitals
  • Pain when urinating
  • Bleeding between periods in women

Treatment is usually a single antibiotic injection and tablet. 

Gonorrhoea can be prevented by using condoms during sex and not sharing sex toys.

Source: NHS Choices  

Antibiotics to treat gonorrhoea are administered via injection into the thigh or buttocks, with symptoms normally clearing a few days later.  

But cases of a mutant strain resistant to one of the antibiotics used — typically only found in the Asia-Pacific region — have been detected in the UK. 

The UKHSA said anyone infected with the ‘superbug’ strain will not be easily treated by ceftriaxone.

In the latest three cases, follow-up tests to establish whether other treatments worked are yet to be carried out. 

Dr Sinka added: ‘After a couple of years without any cases of this hard to treat form of gonorrhoea, we have now seen four cases in the last two months. 

‘It’s too soon to say whether this will be the start of a longer-term trend, but we do know that STIs are on the rise in general.’

The UKHSA raised the alarm in 2018 after a British man was found to have a gonorrhoea infection resistant to both ceftriaxone and azithromycin.

They said the man was having regular sex with a woman in the UK, but became infected with the strain after a one-off encounter with a woman in South East Asia.

The man told doctors his gonorrhoea symptoms began a month after having sex with the woman.

It was the first case ever recorded of an infection resistant to both antibiotics.

The patient was treated with a third antibiotic — ertapenem — before the case was cleared.

British doctors used to prescribe the antibiotic ciprofloxacin to treat gonorrheoa infections.

But in 2005 it was no longer recommended as a possible treatment because the bacteria had become resistant.

Nonetheless, official analysis showed doctors were still prescribing the drug to treat the infection as late as 2011.

Another antibiotic — cefixime — was also dropped for treating gonorrhoea in 2011 after the bacteria became resistant to it.

Chief medics have previously warned the disease could soon become untreatable. 

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