An outbreak of highly drug-resistant “super-gonorrhoea” is sweeping across Britain and could become untreatable, medics fear.
A national alert was triggered by Public Health England last September after the rare strain of the sexually transmitted superbug was detected in 15 people.
The number of confirmed cases has now risen to 34 and, according to reports, there is “huge concern” among doctors that it is spreading across the UK. And experts said it is at risk of becoming untreatable if the only fully effective antibiotic remaining fails.
There have been efforts to track down the sexual partners of those infected with the disease, which can cause infertility.
However, Public Health England (PHE) is understood to have acknowledged that efforts to contain the spread have been of “limited success”.
The alert comes after Chancellor George Osborne warned resistance to antibiotics will become “an even greater threat to mankind than cancer” without global action.
PHE said an increase in cases of super-gonorrhoea was a “further sign of the very real threat of antibiotic resistance to our ability to treat infections”.
The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV issued an alert to clinicians urging them to follow up cases of high level drug resistant gonorrhoea and trace their sexual partners.
Its president, Dr Elizabeth Carlin, told the BBC: “The spread of high level azithromycin-resistant gonorrhoea is a huge concern and it is essential that every effort is made to contain further spread.
“Failure to respond appropriately will jeopardise our ability to treat gonorrhoea effectively and will lead to poorer health outcomes for individuals and society as a whole.”
Last September, the outbreak of highly drug-resistant gonorrhoea was detected in the north of England, triggering a national alert.
The outbreak, which was first detected in Leeds in March, had spread – with cases reported in patients from Macclesfield, Oldham and Scunthorpe.
Around 10 per cent of men and almost half of women with gonorrhoea do not experience symptoms – meaning the condition can go untreated for some time.
There were almost 35,000 cases of gonorrhoea reported in England last year.
It is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the UK after chlamydia. The majority of cases affect people under the age of 25.