Gonorrhoea superbug: Discontinued vaccine against meningitis B could work for STI instead

12 July, 2017, 00:27 | Author: Garry Little
  • People who got the meningitis vaccine in New Zealand

For the first time ever scientists have found a vaccine that protects against gonorrhoea.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently warned that gonorrhea had become hard to treat and was rapidly developing resistance to antibiotics.

They found people who were vaccinated were 31 percent less likely to be infected with gonorrhea than those who hadn't received the meningococcal B vaccine. Given that the bacteria that cause the two diseases, Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Neisseria meningitides, share 80 to 90% of their primary gene sequences, it seemed at least biologically plausible. Antibiotics are the only available treatment, but strains of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea have developed, according to USA health officials.

"Gonorrhoea is a very smart bug", said Teodora Wi, a human reproduction specialist at the Geneva-based United Nations health agency.

"The potential ability of an OMV group B meningococcal vaccine to provide even moderate protection against gonorrhoea would have substantial public health benefits in view of the prevalence of gonorrhoea, and the increase in antibiotic resistance".

A new study suggests that a vaccine that protects against a strain of meningitis may also ward off the sexually transmitted infection.

This means someone being diagnosed with chlamydia but not gonorrhoea could be the result of the meningococcal B vaccine.

Observers had noted that gonorrhea incidence appeared to fall after the vaccination campaign, so Petousis-Harris' group chose to see if they could quantify the effect using a case control study of patients at sexually transmitted infection (STI) clinics in New Zealand.

For the study, Petousis-Harris and colleagues reviewed information on about 1 million people who received the MeNZB vaccine in a mass immunization program.

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The importance of preventing people developing a gonorrhoea infection is of mounting importance as the infection is getting much harder to treat.

A total of 14,730 cases and controls were included in the analysis - 1,241 cases of gonorrhoea, 12,487 cases of chlamydia, 1,002 cases of co-infection.

The findings should "reinvigorate" gonorrhea vaccine research, commented Kate Seib, PhD, of Griffiths University in Gold Coast, Australia.

Dr. Jean Longtin, head of the province's public health laboratory, said he and some colleagues made a decision to look at whether the vaccination campaign was having an impact on gonorrhea rates in that area after reading about an early observation from Norway.

Gonorrhoea is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria, which are closely related to Neisseria meningitidis, which cause meningitis B. "There was certainly biological plausibility, but we needed some proof" that the vaccine really did curb gonorrhea, Petousis-Harris says. After a hundred years, there's been no vaccine.

The researchers found that people who had been vaccinated with the MeNZB vaccine were less likely to have gonorrhea than those who weren't (41 percent versus 51 percent).

The study could be a game-changer against gonorrhoea. 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.

Gonorrhoea spreads through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex and many of those who contract the disease experience no symptoms.

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