12 July, 2017
People who received a meningococcal group B vaccine were 31 per cent less likely to get gonorrhoea, a New Zealand study has found. Unfortunately, there has been little to guide the development of an effective vaccine. And that prospect is not a certainty by any means.
As drug resistance spreads, doctors are diagnosing more and more cases that can not be treated by antibiotics, making it a major public health concern.
Around one million people, or 81 per cent of the New Zealand population under 20 years old, received a vaccine against meningococcal group B (Men B), a bacteria can cause meningitis and blood poisoning if it enters the body.
"Given the emergence of drug resistance, a vaccine may be our only avenue", Petousis-Harris said.
"After decades of research, only four gonococcal vaccine candidates have progressed to clinical trials, and none of these vaccines provided any protection against gonorrhea", Kate Seib from the Institute for Glycomics at Griffith University in Australia, who was not involved in the study, wrote in a commentary for The Lancet.
Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria (which cause gonorrhea) and Neisseria meningitidis bacteria (which cause meningococcal disease) are "two related organisms".
Just last week, the World Health Organization said there was an urgent need for new drugs to prevent and treat gonorrhoea, often called "the clap", which is spread by vaginal, oral and anal sex.
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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".
They found that those who had been vaccinated were significantly less likely to have gonorrhea. The current result "provides a very important breakthrough in the development of gonorrhea vaccines", she says.
"To our knowledge, ours is the first study to show an association between a vaccine and a reduction in the risk of gonorrhea", they stated. The need to rationalize use of available global stocks of vaccine and to adapt epidemic response strategies to epidemiological profiles are challenges for the immediate future.
Kramer said that if a vaccine against multiple strains of gonorrhea could be developed, it would be very beneficial.
A mass vaccination campaign against meningitis B had an unexpected benefit - a drop in gonorrhea incidence, researchers reported. "I wouldn't advise widespread use for the goal of gonorrhea prevention".
No new vaccine has actually been developed. Many cases in the community could have been missed, and these people could have different immunisation trends. A number of cases with identical etiology were reported in several countries in Asia, Europe and in the United States; an epidemiological link with worldwide travel to Saudi Arabia, during which close contact with returning pilgrims could be established, was also reported.
Cases were defined as those with gonorrhea alone, while controls were those diagnosed with chlamydia alone.