What Is “Super-Gonorrhoea” And Should You Be Worried?
This is everything you need to know to stay safe from the superbug.
Last year, reports of a new “superbug” emerged in the north of England, a “highly resistant” form of Gonorrhoea that was proving much more difficult to treat. It all sounded very scary but news coverage quickly died down and, as is often the way with big stories, we all forgot about super-gonorrhoea for a while.
Well, now it’s back, with reporting even more riddled with terrifying buzzwords than before, and it’s not just in the north this time. Reports now claim that the measures to contain the outbreak have had “limited success” with the infection spreading widely across England, and for the first time it has been found in men who have sex with men. With words like “outbreak”, rumours of it being “uncontainable” and the dramatic name “super-gonorrhoea” itself, it can all start to feel a bit World War Z. But what actually is super-gonorrhoea and should we all be worried about it?
What is gonorrhoea?
To understand super-gonorrhoea, let’s first take a look at its origins. Gonorrhoea is a disease caused by nasty bacteria called ‘Neisseria Gonorrhoeae’, and it spreads through unprotected vaginal, oral and anal sex.
If left untreated gonorrhoea can lead to infertility in both men and women, as well as pelvic inflammatory disease in women and it can be passed on to a child through pregnancy.
Symptoms of gonorrhoea can include a thick yellow or green discharge from the penis or vagina, pain when urinating or, in women, bleeding between periods. However, it can also be largely symptomless, with 1 in 10 heterosexual men and more than three-quarters of women and gay men showing no obvious signs of infection.
What’s different about super-gonorrhoea?
Super-gonorrhoea isn’t exactly a whole new disease, rather an evolved form of gonorrhoea.
Gonorrhoea is already tricky to cure due to its high resistance to antibiotics, so currently it’s treated using a combination of two drugs - azithromycin and ceftriaxone. Many cases are now showing resistance to azithromycin though, which makes it even harder and if it begins to build up a resistance to ceftriaxone too, doctors will be left with very few options for treatment.
Should I be worried?
Yes and no. So far only 34 cases have been confirmed in laboratory testing but since the disease is often largely symptomless, there could be a lot more which remain undiagnosed. The disease has also spread to men who have sex with men; something doctors had initially hoped could be avoided.
Also, in a concentrated campaign attempting to track down the sexual partners of those with the superbug, out of 22 partners successfully followed up with, 94% had the virus.
Basically, if it’s allowed to spread further this could be a huge concern and with recent funding cuts to sexual health services, one that could be difficult to develop further treatment for.
What can I do?
Thankfully, it’s not difficult to protect yourself from super-gonorrhoea; in the UK access to preventative measures is pretty good. Use of male or female condoms (or both) during all vaginal sex as well as male condoms during anal sex is essential.
Experts also warn that cases of infection in the throat due to unprotected oral sex, though less common, are extremely important. Antibiotics get to the throat in lower doses than to the genitals and the bacteria that cause gonorrhoea are more likely to be exposed to other bacteria which may help them build up a resistance to antibiotics in the throat. It’s therefore important to use a condom or a dental dam during oral sex.
It’s worth noting also that while gonorrhoea doesn’t survive well outside of the body, it can be transmitted through the sharing of sex-toys so they should always be washed and covered with a new condom if shared.
Regular testing is also essential to ensure that if you are infected, it’s caught early and not spread to others.
So what does this all tell us? Ultimately, it reinforces the importance of safe sex and regular testing. This is something that should be routine anyway but with the risk of untreatable infection, is more important than ever.
For more information on safe sex, head over to the MTV Staying Alive blog.