Old meningitis B vaccine 'may also protect against gonorrhoea'

It's the first time a vaccine has shown any protection against the sexually transmitted infection.

As Petousis-Harris mentions, scientists are not entirely sure why a vaccine intended for meningitis also works against a sexually transmitted infection. "It is far from ideal, but it is a leap in the right direction", she said.

Back in the early 2000s, a huge epidemic of meningococcal B disease struck New Zealand, with very high disease rates, the team of researchers wrote, adding the government's request to the World Health Organization to help create a specific vaccine for it.

In New Zealand, approximately one million individuals - 81% of the population under 20 years - received the MeNZB vaccine during a mass immunisation programme in 2004-06.

"Given the emergence of drug resistance, a vaccine may be our only avenue", Petousis-Harris said.

It is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the United Kingdom after chlamydia, with the majority of cases affecting people under the age of 25.

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".

For their study, the team used data from 11 sexual health clinics for all people aged 15 to 30 who had been diagnosed with gonorrhea or chlamydia, or both, and who had also been eligible to be immunized against meningitis in the 2004-2006 campaign.

In an accompanying commentary, Seib said more evidence is needed to support the notion that the vaccine provided cross-protection, but declines in gonorrhea incidence after vaccination "support the feasibility of a vaccine to protect against gonorrhea".

After taking into account factors such as race, sex, socioeconomics and geographical area, the researchers calculated that vaccination reduced the odds of getting gonorrhea by 31 percent.

"Mathematical modeling has shown that even a vaccine of moderate efficacy and duration could have a substantial effect on the transmission and prevalence of gonorrhea, if coverage in the population is high and protection lasts during the highest risk period", Kate Seib, of Australia's Institute for Glycomics, wrote in a commentary that accompanied the study.

Gonorrhea's bacterial culprit, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, has developed resistance to many antibiotics, making treatment much more hard. 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. They found vaccinated individuals were over 30% less likely to develop gonorrhoea.

Almost 15,000 people were included in the analysis.

"This paper is intriguing as a concept, but not as a reason to use this vaccine to protect people from gonorrhea", he said.

But a team of researchers in New Zealand has some hopeful news. More than 1,200 who had gonorrhea, more than 12,400 with chlamydia and 1,000 who had both.

Kramer said that if a vaccine against multiple strains of gonorrhea could be developed, it would be very beneficial.

Gonorrhea can infect the genitals, rectum and throat.

No new vaccine has actually been developed. Though it does have many similar components, we don't know if these are useful in protecting against gonorrhoea.

  • Aubrey Nash