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Hope in quest for gonorrhoea vaccination

Published on 11/07/17 at 10:26am

Only last week, the WHO expressed serious concerns about the possibility of strains of gonorrhoea developing that could be resistant to all known antibiotics. Now, there is hope that a clue to finding a preventative measure for the sexually transmitted infection may have been found by researchers focusing on meningitis vaccination in New Zealand.

It had previously been observed in Cuba and Norway that widespread meningitis vaccinations had led to a phenomenon whereby rates of gonorrhoea fell in those protected from the infectious disease.

This led to researchers analysing data from 15,000 young people who had undergone meningitis B vaccination in New Zealand. It was found that there was a fall in 31% in those who had received the vaccination, offering a tantalising clue that may provide for some protection against the STI.

It is thought that the reason behind this fall could be related to the bacterium that causes both conditions – as they are closely related. The cross-protection was observed to last for approximately two years.

Widespread vaccinations occurred because the particular strain of meningitis, known as meningococcal disease, is particularly infectious and can cause epidemics across populations. The reaction by countries is to unleash vaccination programs in concerted waves to ensure the disease is not allowed to spread.

This allowed researchers to observe trends in STIs that could result from the meningococcal B vaccine (MeNZB).

The study, published in The Lancet, concluded: “Exposure to MeNZB was associated with reduced rates of gonorrhoea diagnosis, the first time a vaccine has shown any protection against gonorrhoea. These results provide a proof of principle that can inform prospective vaccine development not only for gonorrhoea but also for meningococcal vaccines.”

The funding for the study was provided by GSK, the company produced MeNZB but this vaccination is no longer available. It was replaced by a new jab called 4CMenB that contains components of this vaccine and will be part of standard immunisation jabs for children in the UK.

It will be hoped that this discovery can provide direction for researchers to test further meningitis vaccinations to see if they could provide additional cover against gonorrhoea, even partial protection could be enough to see rates of the STI drop.

Ben Hargreaves

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