An “untreatable” strain of the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhoea has broken out across the north of England.
England’s chief medical officer has warned that the resistant strain could become untreatable after the outbreak started in Leeds.
The ‘super gonorrhea’ has seen further cases surface in Oldham, Macclesfield and Scunthorpe, with some patients reporting having sexual partners from other areas of England.
Dame Sally Davies has reportedly written to all GPs and pharmacies in Leeds to ensure they are prescribing the correct drugs after the rise of a highly drug-resistant strain of the infection.
Public Health England (PHE) said in September that at least 16 cases had been detected this year, including 12 in Leeds.
Gonorrhea can usually be treated by taking two different antibiotics; ceftriaxone and azithromycin.
The new strain is resistant to the azithromycin component, making it currently untreatable.
In her letter, the BBC reported that the chief medical officer said: “Gonorrhoea is at risk of becoming an untreatable disease due to the continuing emergence of antimicrobial resistance.”
There were almost 35,000 cases of gonorrhoea reported in England last year and it is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the UK after chlamydia, with the majority of cases affecting people under the age of 25.
Infected patients may experience discharge or pain while urinating, but around 10% of men and almost half of women do not suffer any symptoms.
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If untreated, gonorrhoea can result in severe complications and lead to infertility or septicaemia in rare cases.
The letter, which the broadcaster said is also signed by chief pharmaceutical officer Dr Keith Ridge, added: “Gonorrhoea has rapidly acquired resistance to new antibiotics, leaving few alternatives to the current recommendations.
“It is therefore extremely important that suboptimal treatment does not occur.”
All UK cases to date are believed to have been transmitted through heterosexual intercourse.
Concerns have been growing over “untreatable” strains of gonorrhoea since 2012, when the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control warned that drug-resistant forms of the STI were spreading across Europe.
Dr Jan Clarke, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, told the BBC: “We’re really pleased that the chief medical officer has stressed that gonorrhoea needs this approach to treatment due to the rapid development of resistance.
“We need to protect what we’ve got and we need to encourage pharmacists and general practitioners to follow first-line treatment.”
Dr Andrew Lee, from Public Health England, added: “Investigations are ongoing into a number of cases of anti-microbial resistant gonorrhoea.
“Public Health England will continue to monitor, and act on, the spread of antimicrobial resistance and potential gonorrhoea treatment failures, to make sure they are identified and managed promptly.”