Drug resistant gonorrhoea numbers triple

SUPERBUG: Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria cells are 'the bugs we can't afford to let get out of hand': Professor John Turnidge. Photo: Science Picture Co
SUPERBUG: Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria cells are 'the bugs we can't afford to let get out of hand': Professor John Turnidge. Photo: Science Picture Co

Cases of an antibiotic resistant strain of gonorrhoea have almost tripled in six months. 

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection that has the potential to cause meningitis, and infertility in women.

More than 1000 people around the country have contracted the “superbug” in the past year, new results from the National Alert System for Critical Antimicrobial Resistance (CARAlert) reveals.

The STI dubbed a "super-superbug" has been detected in every Australian state and territory by a new national surveillance system.

Numbers of sexually transmitted diseases in Katherine are among the highest per capita in Australia. 

STIs are the most common infectious disease in Katherine.

NT’s chief health officer Hugh Heggie said “the collective STI notifications, chlamydia, gonococcal, syphilis and trichomoniasis, are the most prevalent infectious diseases reported in Katherine”.

Senior medical advisor at the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care Professor John Turnidge. Photo: Supplied

Senior medical advisor at the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care Professor John Turnidge. Photo: Supplied

Professor John Turnidge senior medical advisor at the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care said the strain of gonorrhoea "are super-superbugs".

"They're the bugs we can't afford to let get out of hand," he said.

The rise of the resilient bacterium, combined with a rise in gonorrhoea cases nationally, leaves patients with no effective treatment options and aids the spread of the sexually transmitted infection, Professor Turnidge said.

The antibiotic azithromycin had become close to useless against the strain.

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While the number of super-superbug detections overall was still relatively low, their emergence meant  "we are getting close to untreatable infection with these super bugs," Professor Turnidge warned.

"Not having antibiotics to treat these infections would be a nightmare. It means people will die that don't need to die. 

"At the sharp end, you have patients who develop blood poisoning and septicaemia … these patients get desperately ill and end up in intensive care units," he said.

Patients who were infected with the "super-superbugs" were left scrambling for access to unregistered drugs, most commonly old antimicrobials that had not been used for decades. 

Overprescribing antibiotics was "certainly" fuelling the rise of the highly multi-drug resistant infections, as well as poor hygiene and lax infection control in hospitals and nursing homes, Professor Turnidge said.

Dr Hugh Heggie said sexual health checks are available at all primary health care organisations in the NT, and in addition, specialised services are available through Clinic 34. 

Clinic 34 offers free confidential sexual health checks and you do not need a Medicare Card. It is located on the Katherine District Hospital grounds. 

“We advise all sexually active people who have activity outside of known relationships to have at least an annual sexual health check, but more frequently if they have multiple partners or engage in sexual activity through casual anonymous encounters,” Dr Heggie said. 

“We can all work towards having straightforward, candid conversations about STI in the community.