Meningitis vaccine may also cut risk of ‘untreatable’ gonorrhoea, study says

Bacteria causing two different illnesses belong to the same family and share much of the same genetic code providing unexpected cross protection

Hopes to fight untreatable strains of gonorrhoea have risen after it emerged that a new vaccine against meningitis unexpectedly reduced the risk of people getting the sexually transmitted infection.

Some strains of gonorrhoea are resistant to all available drugs, making vaccine development an urgent global health priority. But according to a study in The Lancet, a vaccine has offered protection against the sexually transmitted disease for the first time.

Gonorrhoea spreads through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex and many of those who contract the disease experience no symptoms. If left untreated, the disease can cause infertility and can increase the transmission of HIV infection.

A New Zealand meningitis epidemic in the early 2000s prompted the mass vaccination of a million people and fortuitously set the scene for the current study. The vaccine used, known as MeNZB, was designed to protect against meningococcal group B infection the cause of the most deadly form of meningitis.

But intriguingly, over the next few years, scientists noticed fewer gonorrhoea cases than expected in those who had been vaccinated against meningitis.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccine specialist from the University of Auckland who led the study, was optimistic: Some types of gonorrhoea are now resistant to every antibiotic we have, and there appeared [to be] little we could do to prevent the steady march of gonorrhoea to superbug status. But now theres hope, she added.

The research team studied over 14,000 people aged 15-30 whod been diagnosed with gonorrhoea at sexual health clinics across New Zealand and who had been eligible for the MeNZB vaccine during the emergency vaccination programme. They found vaccinated individuals were over 30% less likely to develop gonorrhoea.

Despite meningitis and gonorrhoea being very different illnesses, both are caused by bacteria from the same family and share much of the same genetic code, providing a possible explanation for the cross-protection that the team observed.

More than 78 million people worldwide get gonorrhoea each year with most infections in men and women under the age of 25. It is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the UK after chlamydia. In England alone, almost 35,000 people were affected in 2014.

British Association for Sexual Health and HIVs President, Dr Elizabeth Carlin, who was not involved in the study, was more sceptical: These early findings are to be welcomed but its important to keep in perspective that the vaccine offered only moderate protection …. an individual receiving this vaccine remains susceptible to gonorrhoea but just less so than if unvaccinated.

The MeNZB vaccine used in the current study is no longer manufactured, but Petousis-Harris has high hopes for a similar meningitis vaccine called 4CMenB, available in many countries.

Petousis-Harris was clear about what needed to happen next. We need an urgent assessment of current meningitis vaccines to see if they protect against gonorrhoea. It may be possible to eliminate many gonorrhoea infections using a vaccine with only moderate protection. It does not need to be perfect, she added.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/jul/10/meningitis-vaccine-may-also-cut-risk-of-untreatable-gonorrhoea-study-says

Untreatable gonorrhoea ‘superbug’ spreading around world, WHO warns

World Health Organization tells of very serious situation after confirming three known cases where all antibiotics were ineffective


The World Health Organization has warned of the spread of totally untreatable strains of gonorrhoea after discovering at least three people with the superbug.

Giving details of studies showing a very serious situation with regard to highly drug-resistant forms of the sexually transmitted disease (STD), WHO experts said on Friday it was only a matter of time before last-resort gonorrhoea antibiotics would be of no use.

Gonorrhoea is a very smart bug, said Teodora Wi, a human reproduction specialist at the Geneva-based UN health agency. Every time you introduce a new type of antibiotic to treat it, this bug develops resistance to it.

The WHO estimates 78 million people a year get gonorrhoea, an STD that can infect the genitals, rectum and throat.

The infection, which in many cases has no symptoms on its own, can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility, as well as increasing the risk of getting HIV.

Wi, who gave details in a telephone briefing of two studies on gonorrhoea published in the journal PLOS Medicine, said one had documented three specific cases one each in Japan, France and Spain of patients with strains of gonorrhoea against which no known antibiotic is effective.

These are cases that can infect others. It can be transmitted, she told reporters. And these cases may just be the tip of the iceberg, since systems to diagnose and report untreatable infections are lacking in lower-income countries where gonorrhoea is actually more common.

The WHOs programme for monitoring trends in drug-resistant gonorrhoea found in a study that from 2009 to 2014 there was widespread resistance to the first-line medicine ciprofloxacin, increasing resistance to another antibiotic drugs called azithromycin, and the emergence of resistance to last-resort treatments known as extended-spectrum cephalosporins (ESCs).

In most countries, it said, ESCs are now the only single antibiotics that remain effective for treating gonorrhoea. Yet resistance to them has already been reported in 50 countries.

Manica Balasegaram, director of the Global Antibiotic Research and Development Partnership, said the situation was grim and there was a pressing need for new medicines.

The pipeline, however, is very thin, with only three potential new gonorrhoea drugs in development and no guarantee any will prove effective in final-stage trials, he said.

We urgently need to seize the opportunities we have with existing drugs and candidates in the pipeline, he said. Any new treatment developed should be accessible to everyone who needs it, while ensuring it is used appropriately, so that drug resistance is slowed as much as possible.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/07/untreatable-gonorrhoea-superbug-spreading-around-world-who-warns