Efforts to stop an outbreak of gonorrhoea in the UK have failed, health officials have warned.
It is feared the sexually transmitted disease may be becoming increasingly resistant to treatment, prompting concerns further rapid spread could occur.
In April, it emerged an outbreak of gonorrhoea had occurred in Leeds, with cases also noted in the West Midlands, London and southern-England. It began among heterosexual couples but has since been spread among men who have sex with men (MSM).
In a report issued today by health agency Public Health England, the group warned: “The outbreak of HL-AziR gonorrhoea in England persists. There have been 17 cases of HL-AziR gonorrhoea reported to date in 2016 compared to 15 cases for the same time period in 2015. Between November 2014 and August 2016 there have been a total of 48 confirmed and two probable cases.
“The potential for rapid spread of HL-AziR N. gonorrhoeae among high risk sexual networks including MSM is of particular concern.”
The disease can result in serious discomfort, pelvic inflammatory disease and even infertility. Among 1 in 10 infected men and half of infected women, symptoms can go undetected. Symptoms include a green or yellow discharge from the genitals, discomfort urinating and irregular bleeding between periods.
Dr Gwenda Hughes, Consultant Scientist and Head of the Sexually Transmitted Infections Section at Public Health England said: “Diagnoses of gonorrhoea in England have risen sharply in recent years and we are concerned about the emergence of strains that are resistant to the antibiotic treatment options currently available.
“PHE actively monitors, and acts on, the spread of antibiotic resistance and potential gonorrhoea treatment failures and has introduced enhanced surveillance of identified cases, their sexual partners and treatment. This will help ensure cases are managed promptly and reduce the spread of resistant strains.
“However our advice remains the same; it is far better to avoid getting or passing on gonorrhoea in the first place and everyone can significantly reduce their risk by using condoms with all new and casual partners.”
Chief Executive of sexual health charity FPA Natika H Halil told The Independent: “There 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.
“PHE’s report is a timely reminder, ahead of our Sexual Health Week focusing on STIs next week, how important it is for people to know how to protect themselves. It particularly highlights the importance of testing so that cases can be diagnosed early and as well as of partner notification to help limit infections being passed on.
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“Through a survey we have conducted for Sexual Health Week, we know some people struggle to use condoms because they don’t like how they feel and they impact on the pleasure of sex. However, condoms remain the best way to help prevent STIs being passed on.”