Scientists from Australia and overseas discussed the threat of such drug-resistant “superbugs” at an Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases conference on the Gold Coast last weekend.
Associate Professor David Whiley from the Queensland Children’s Medical Research Institute at the University of Queensland said a drug-resistant strain of gonorrhoea could spread rapidly from initial isolated cases to a wide-scale epidemic.
“When it comes to these extensively drug-resistant strains we have only seen two cases of this globally, and they’ve been reported two or three years ago. But the concern is…once you start to see one or two strains that demonstrate this type of resistance they can very quickly multiply and spread,” Whiley explained to the Star Observer.
Whiley said the prospect of a new drug-resistance was particularly concerning because few viable treatments for gonorrhoea remain.
“There are some antibiotics that are looking quite promising. But unfortunately in terms of this kind of thing gonorrhoea has been a little bit of a forgotten disease, so there haven’t really been enough trials to look at novel antibiotics against gonorrhoea,” he said.
Director of Melbourne Sexual Health Centre Professor Kit Fairley said gonorrhoea is particularly a problem for gay men, increasing the impact of drug-resistant strains on the gay male community.
“In heterosexuals it is almost always just the penis that gets infected, and the penis is symptomatic in almost everybody. But in gay men, their sexual activity is different, so they get more throat infections and more anal infections. Those sites are much less commonly symptomatic,” Fairley told the Star Observer.
“Men are very sensitive about their penises, so they rush off and treat it and the infection is unlikely to be passed on. But in gay men of course they have throat and rectal infections, so they can unknowingly pass it on because they don’t have any symptoms.”
Fairley said condom use and regular sexual health checks were still the best way to avoid an outbreak in the gay community. He also explained that drug-resistance is linked to overuse of antibiotics worldwide, but that global antibiotic use is decreasing.
“This resistant gonorrhoea tends to be more common in Asia, where these is perhaps more lax control on antibiotic use. So if gay men are travelling overseas they should be particularly careful with condom use,” Fairley said.
Information on gonorrhoea transmission, symptoms and treatment is available online at www.mshc.org.au.