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  1. ITV Report

North of England 'super gonorrhoea' outbreak triggers nationwide alert

Drug-resistant gonorrhoea bacteria. Credit: Public Health Image Library

A highly drug-resistant gonorrhoea outbreak has been detected in the north of England, prompting a nationwide alert.

The outbreak, first detected in Leeds in March, has now spread - with cases now reported in patients in Macclesfield, Oldham and Scunthorpe.

Fifteen cases have been detected by Public Health England so far, the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV said.

Reports to PHE's sexually transmitted bacteria reference unit of cases of the infection being highly resistant to the azithromycin drug have previously been rare, it added.

All of the cases involve heterosexual patients, and some people have reported partners from other parts of England.

The association said:

PHE is concerned that the effectiveness of current front-line dual therapy for gonorrhoea will be threatened if this resistant strain continues to spread unchecked.

– British Association for Sexual Health and HIV

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. Around 10% of men and almost half of women with the infection do not experience symptoms

Whilst the number of infections may seem small, a sexual health expert told the BBC that there could be more undetected cases.

This azithromycin highly-resistant outbreak is the first one that has triggered a national alert.

It doesn't sound like an awful lot of people, but the implication is there's a lot more of this strain out there and we need to stamp it out as quickly as possible.

– Peter Greenhouse

This latest outbreak adds to growing concern that gonorrhoea and several other illnesses are becoming untreatable.