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Researchers Discover Possible Vaccine to Treat Gonorrhea

September 22, 2017

Despite significant advancements in medicine, we still haven’t yet found a vaccine for gonorrhea, a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that affects millions of people globally. However, a recent study may provide more hope that we’re close to getting there.

The study, based in New Zealand and published in The Lancet journal, assessed the effectiveness of a meningitis vaccine for gonorrhea in people age 15 to 30. The vaccine was used to control a meningitis outbreak in New Zealand from 2004 to 2006, but is no longer on the market. However, the antigens in the vaccine that may have triggered an immune response to gonorrhea are part of new meningitis vaccine that has become widely available.

Researchers did a retrospective study of patients who had received the original vaccine and had been diagnosed with either chlamydia, gonorrhea or both. Of the 14,730 cases researchers reviewed, there were 1,241 cases of gonorrhea, 12,487 cases of chlamydia and slightly more than 1,000 cases of people who were infected with both sexually transmitted diseases. Researchers found those who received the meningitis vaccine were 41 percent less likely to have gonorrhea than those who didn’t. They estimated the vaccine had a 31 percent overall effectiveness in protecting against gonorrhea when accounting for factors such as ethnicity, geography and sex.

The study’s findings are particularly important because STD rates continue to climb in the country. In 2015, the CDC reported that rates of gonorrhea had increased about 5 percent year-over-year. On top of this, the disease is becoming much more resistant to treatment. Last year, health officials in England discovered a strain of the disease called “super gonorrhea” that did not respond to antibiotics, which is the typical course of treatment for this disease.

The study’s findings are encouraging, as this is the first time a vaccine has proven even somewhat effective against gonorrhea, the study’s authors say. However, we still don’t know how long the immune response the vaccine triggers might last, so more research is necessary to understand just how well this vaccine can protect against gonorrhea, in which patients it is most effective and for how long.

Gonorrhea can lead to serious health conditions, including infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease, if it is left untreated. Since there’s currently no vaccine, the best way to reduce your risk of gonorrhea is to practice safe sex. Gonorrhea can be spread during vaginal, oral or anal sex, and symptoms usually include painful urination, bleeding, itching, soreness and increased rectal or vaginal discharge. If you experience any of these symptoms, visit a doctor and get treated with antibiotics. This is the best approach, because we still may be a long way from actually developing vaccine that can prevent this disease — and even then, you should still practice safe sex.

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