NZ-led research shows potential for world-first gonorrhoea vaccine

People who received a meningococcal group B vaccine were 31 per cent less likely to get gonorrhoea, a New Zealand study ...
RICARDO MORAES/STUFF

People who received a meningococcal group B vaccine were 31 per cent less likely to get gonorrhoea, a New Zealand study has found.

"Exciting" Kiwi research shows the first-ever gonorrhoea vaccine could be on its way, after more than a century of research into preventing the sexually transmitted disease.

The study, led by Auckland University's Dr Helen Petousis-Harris, found that those who received a meningococcal group B vaccine were 31 per cent less likely to get gonorrhoea than those who weren't vaccinated.

It was the first time that a vaccine had shown any protection against gonorrhoea, which is also known as 'the clap'.

Dr Helen Petousis-Harris said the results of the research were exciting and unexpected.
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Dr Helen Petousis-Harris said the results of the research were exciting and unexpected.

The disease can cause pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and chronic pain, and about 78 million people worldwide are diagnosed with it every year.

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​It was not known exactly how the meningococcal vaccine worked on the sexually transmitted disease.

However, Petousis-Harris said it was most likely due to the fact the two bacteria that caused meningitis and gonorrhoea were semi-related "kissing-cousins".

The bacteria have an 80 to 90 per cent genetic match.

"It's a hugely exciting result, and unexpected, we didn't expect a finding that significant," she said.

"At the moment, the mechanism behind this immunity is unknown, but our findings could inform future vaccine development for both the meningococcal and gonorrhoea vaccines."

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About one million Kiwis – 81 per cent of the under-20 population – received the meningococcal B vaccine between 2004 and 2008, following a massive outbreak of meningitis.

The study looked at more than 14,000 people: some who received the vaccine, and some unvaccinated people who acted as controls.

It also took other factors, such as ethnicity, deprivation, geographical area, and gender, into account.

Petousis-Harris said gonorrhoea had traditionally been quite treatable but had recently developed into a "superbug", with some strains now resistant to all available treatments.

That meant the need for a gonorrhoea vaccine was now desperate, and the research "opened the door" for developing that vaccine, she said.

The study, Effectiveness of a group B outer membrane vesicle meningococcal vaccine against gonorrhoea in New Zealand: a retrospective case-control study, was published in The Lancet on Monday.

 - Stuff

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