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We May Be One Step Closer to a Gonorrhea Vaccine

Just a few days ago, we reported on concerns over cases of untreatable gonorrhea resulting from resistance to commonly used antibiotics. That’s still the case, but thanks to some welcome side effects from a mass vaccination in New Zealand, we may be one step closer to the first vaccine to offer any protection against the sexually transmitted infection.

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Research published yesterday in The Lancet reveals that the rates of gonorrhea decreased in New Zealand following the widespread vaccination against an outbreak of bacterial meningitis. This happened because the bacteria associated with meningitis is a “cousin” of the one that causes gonorrhea. It’s completely different bacteria than the one behind chlamydia — another common STI. Researchers noted that because the vaccine had no impact on preventing chlamydia, it helped to confirm the connection between the vaccine for bacterial meningitis and one that could help prevent gonorrhea.

Overall, the researchers found that 41 percent of those vaccinated became infected with gonorrhea, versus 51 percent of those who did not receive the vaccine. Combined with other factors, including ethnicity and gender, those behind the study found that the vaccine reduced the occurrence of gonorrhea by around 31 percent.

That may seem like it’s on the low side, but it’s a start.

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Dr. Helen Petousis-Harris, lead author of the new study and a senior lecturer at the University of Auckland, told CNN that “even moderate protection” against STIs like gonorrhea could have a significant impact because the bacteria “are very tricky.”

“Given the emergence of drug resistance, a vaccine may be our only avenue,” she said.

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Gonorrhea, which infects an estimated 78 million people each year, can affect the genitals, rectum and throat and is increasingly spread through oral sex. On top of that, according to WHO, complications of gonorrhea disproportionately affect women, causing pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility as well as an increased risk of HIV. It can also be passed onto a child during pregnancy.

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