THE soaring rates of gonorrhoea in Australia combined with antimicrobial resistance could be the “perfect storm” as experts loose the battle to curb the sexually transmitted infection among young Australians, warns a researcher.
In response to the potential health threat, University of Queensland researchers are leading a clinical study to determine the most appropriate treatment for patients by analysing drug resistance from the DNA of the organism causing the infection.
Associate Professor David Whiley says this would enable the most powerful antibiotics to be preserved for cases that would not respond to other drugs.
“We know the antibiotic pipeline is wearing thin, so we’re using the molecular test to identify gonorrhoea that would be susceptible to older drugs like ciprofloxacin,” Dr Whiley said.
“Ciprofloxacin would not be recommended for general use but could be effective for many patients, instead of our really precious drugs that we need to protect.”
There were about 20,000 cases of gonorrhoea in Australia last year. Data released by the Kirby Institute at UNSW Sydney earlier this year showed diagnoses of gonorrhoea increased by 63 per over the past five years.
The highest incidences were among men who have sex with men in urban areas, and among people living in remote Indigenous communities.
“Numbers have increased dramatically in the past five to 10 years, and we are actually getting up to rates which are similar to the pre-1980s HIV/AIDS campaigns around safe sex,” said Dr Whiley.
“We are losing the battle to control gonorrhoea even though we have organisms that are still very susceptible to our current drugs,” he warned.
The World Health Organisation recently warned about sporadic incidences – including one case in Australia – of gonorrhoea resistant to all current antibiotics.
“That was a tourist who appears to have been infected by a fellow tourist somewhere in Australia and left the country, and we haven’t been able to find that strain since,” Dr Whiley said.
Dr Whiley is calling on GPs and sexual health clinicians to ring all the alarm bells if someone appears to have failed treatment, although he stressed that is not expected at this stage.
“In Australia at the moment we have a control issue rather than a treatment issue.”
“(But) if we were to suddenly have gonorrhoea organisms that are very difficult to treat, that’s almost the perfect storm–we definitely don’t want that.”