This would be the first time that any vaccine has offered protection against gonorrhoea, according to their study published yesterday in The Lancet.
The news comes from the results of a study in New Zealand that found people who'd been given an old version of the meningitis B vaccine were less likely to be diagnosed with gonorrhoea.
Gonorrhea is becoming harder and in some cases impossible to treat with antibiotics, the World Health Organization said.
For now, the most effective way to prevent gonorrhoea is to always use a condom during sex, including oral and anal sex.
So a team of researchers started looking at a vaccine that was originally used in an emergency meningitis B campaign between 2004 and 2006, when approximately one million people in New Zealand were immunised to stem an outbreak. "This is the first time a vaccine has shown any protection against gonorrhoea", lead author Helen Petousis-Harris from University of Auckland, New Zealand, said in a statement.
Fellow researcher Prof Steven Black, from Cincinnati Children's Hospital in the USA, said: "The potential ability of a group B meningococcal vaccine to provide even moderate protection against gonorrhoea would have substantial public health benefits". Despite being very different in symptoms and mode of transmission, there is a genetic match of up to 90 per cent between gonorrhoea and meningitis bacteria.
"Gonorrhoea is a very smart bug", said Teodora Wi, a human reproduction specialist at the Geneva-based United Nations health agency.
In spite of research conducted over a century, efforts to find vaccine against gonorrhoea had been unsuccessful.
However, population data now suggests there is a decline in gonorrhoea immediately after the use of the outer membrane vesicle (OMV) meningococcal group B vaccine in Cuba, New Zealand, and Norway.
For the study, Petousis-Harris and colleagues reviewed information on about 1 million people who received the MeNZB vaccine in a mass immunization program.
For example, given that both groups were sexually active, we don't know why the majority of people with gonorrhoea didn't also have a chlamydia infection, and how this may have affected the results.
It turns out that the meningitis vaccine seems to have led to a decrease in gonorrhoea cases. The data show that individuals who were vaccinated were significantly less likely to have gonorrhea. WHO is now strengthening laboratory and epidemiological surveillance systems in the countries of the African meningitis belt to detect and characterize the serogroups responsible for epidemics to guide its response effectively; assure supplies of effective drugs and ability of health care systems to deliver these to the affected populations; protect the population at risk through mass immunization, if the vaccine is available.
Given the concerning situation with multi-drug resistant gonorrhea, a vaccine might play a critical role, Petousis-Harris said.
Gonorrhoea, a sexually transmitted infection also known as the Clap, has become a superbug.
The study could be a game-changer against gonorrhoea. The indication that something in the MeNZB vaccine might increase protection against gonorrhoea requires further research to pinpoint how it does so. The need to rationalize use of available global stocks of vaccine and to adapt epidemic response strategies to epidemiological profiles are challenges for the immediate future.
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