Gonorrhoea outbreak: National alert triggered over drug-resistant strain

Public Health England has found 15 cases so far

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English health authorities have issued a warning over the outbreak of a highly drug resistant strain of gonorrhoea in the north of England.

Public Health England (PHE) has found 15 cases so far, according to the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH).

The first was detected in Leeds back in March, but the infection has since spread — at least to Macclesfield, Oldham and Scunthorpe.

All infected patients have been heterosexual, and some reported having recently had sex with people from other parts of England.

What makes this particular STD a national concern is just how difficult it is to get rid of. According to PHE records, this strain has exhibited a rare resistance to the azithromycin drug.

In a statement, BASHH said: "An outbreak control team meeting has been convened and [the bacteria reference unit] are currently performing next generation sequencing on these strains to better understand the molecular epidemiology."

It added: "PHE is concerned that the effectiveness of current front-line dual therapy for gonorrhoea will be threatened if this resistant strain continues to spread unchecked."

With only 15 confirmed cases, the outbreak may seem small to some, but Peter Greenhouse, a Bristol-based sexual health consultant, says it is vital the spread of this strain is stopped or else we'll be "in big trouble".

He told the BBC: "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."

There were almost 35,000 cases of gonorrhoea reported in England last year. Behind just chlamydia, it is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the country.

The majority of cases affect people under the age of 25. Around 10% of men and almost half of women with the infection do not experience symptoms.

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