The Health Protection Agency (HPA) has announced the launch of its first Gonorrhoea Resistance Action Plan (GRASP) for England and Wales, recommending a heightened national response to combat the threat posed by this sexually transmitted disease.
Over the last decade, gonorrhoea has become increasingly resistant to antibiotics, and a lack of new therapeutic options means that untreatable forms of the disease are now a real possibility.
Gonorrhoea is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI) in England, and over a third of cases were in men who have sex with men. Those infected with gonorrhoea are also more susceptible to picking up other sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV. Gonorrhoea infection rates are also rising dramatically, with a 25% increase from 2010 to 2011 across England and Wales.
The HPA’s Professor Cathy Ison, lead author of the GRASP Action Plan, said, “Ensuring treatment resistant gonorrhoea strains do not persist and spread remains a major public health concern. The GRASP Action Plan raises awareness of this important issue and sets out practical, measurable actions to extend the useful life of the current recommended therapies in England and Wales.”
The GRASP Action Plan supports the public health control of gonorrhoea, and gonorrhoea resistance, by providing guidance on data collection, rapid detection of treatment failures, adherence to management guidelines, and actions to reduce gonorrhoea transmission.
Dr Gwenda Hughes, head of STI surveillance at the HPA, added, “We are seriously concerned about continuing high levels of gonorrhoea transmission and repeat infection, suggesting we need to do more to reduce unsafe sexual behaviour.”
Her viewpoint was echoed by workers in the field of gay men’s health. Paul Ward, Deputy Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust, said, “The emergence of drug-resistant gonorrhoea poses a very real threat to the gay community, which already has a worryingly high level of infection. It is vital that men are aware of the risks and armed with the knowledge to protect themselves and their partners. Condoms are the best protection against gonorrhoea. However, men can carry the infection without being aware and even those who believe they have been safe might have been at risk, particularly through oral sex. Having gonorrhoea also makes it far easier to pick up or pass on HIV. This is why we recommend gay and bisexual men go for a sexual health check up at least once every six months if they are having sex with new or casual partners.”