Health :Gonorrhoea could become untreatable, says chief medic

Gonorrhoea could become untreatable, England’s chief medical officer has said. Dame Sally Davies has written to all GPs and pharmacies to ensure they are prescribing the correct drugs after the rise of a highly drug-resistant strain of the infection
Neisseria gonorrhoea, the bacteria that causes the STI. Photograph: David Phillips/Getty Images/Visuals Unlimited
At least 16 cases of the mutated strain were detected in northern England this year, including 12 in Leeds, Public Health England (PHE) said in September. The strain, which is resistant to first-line antibiotic azithromycin, was first reported in Leeds in March and has spread, with cases reported in patients from Macclesfield, Oldham and Scunthorpe.

Davies said in her letter: “Gonorrhoea is at risk of becoming an untreatable disease due to the continuing emergence of antimicrobial resistance.

“Gonorrhoea has rapidly acquired resistance to new antibiotics, leaving few alternatives to the current recommendations. It is therefore extremely important that suboptimal treatment does not occur.”

Related: Drug-resistant gonorrhoea outbreak sparks England-wide alert

The BBC said the letter was also signed by the chief pharmaceutical officer, Dr Keith Ridge.

Almost 35,000 cases of gonorrhoea were reported in England last year and it is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the UK after chlamydia. The majority of cases affect people under the age of 25.

Infected patients may experience discharge or pain while urinating, but around 10% of men and almost half of women do not suffer any symptoms. If untreated, gonorrhoea can lead to infertility or septicaemia in rare cases.

Concerns have been growing over “untreatable” strains of gonorrhoea. In 2012 the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said drug-resistant forms of the STI were spreading across Europe.

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