'Super' gonorrhoea becoming drug-resistant

00:44, May 08 2013

As a rare strain of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea spreads further throughout the globe, New Zealand authorities say common strains are also becoming resistant to treatments largely considered the "last line of defence".

The first case of the superbug gonorrhoea H041 was discovered in Japan in 2011.

But cases have now also been confirmed in California and Norway, and most recently two new cases has recently been discovered in Hawaii.

Gonorrhoea is a common sexually transmitted infection and symptoms a burning urination and penile discharge in men, whereas women can be asymptomatic half the time or have vaginal discharge and pelvic pain.

There have been no recorded cases of H041 in New Zealand but Environmental Science and Research (ESR) senior scientist Helen Heffernan said concern was growing that it could reach our shores.

"It's certainly on our radar, and in fact what has also been discovered is H041 isolates that aren't fully resistant, but have reduced susceptibility to antibiotics, have certainly been found in New Zealand."


Heffernan said the situation was concerning. "In the 1970s gonorrhoea became resistant to penicillin, which was the treatment at that stage. So another antibiotic was developed - it became resistant to that as well. 
"The main treatment now is ceftriaxone, and it is showing signs of increased resistance, but after that, there aren't a whole lot of other options."

Ministry of Health Public Health director Dr Mark Jacobs said the ministry was working with the NZ Sexual Health service to update guidelines for prevention and treatment. "Updated international guidelines recommend routine dual treatment of gonorrhoea with azithromycin and ceftriaxone to strengthen current treatments and delay the development of full antibiotic resistance.

"New Zealand's 2012 national sexually transmitted infection guidelines published by the NZ Sexual Health Service follow this recommendation," he said.

"The best protection against sexually transmitted disease remains practising safe sex,including always using condoms."

According to 2012 figures from ESR, New Zealand recorded a gonorrhoea rate of 89 cases per every 100,00 people across 17 District Health Board regions - a third higher than the rate during the period 2009 to 2011.

Over 60 per cent of cases reported by laboratories in 2012 were aged between 15 and 24 years and two cases of gonorrhoea in infants were reported.