A group of organisations has banded together to raise awareness about an increase in gonorrhoea among men who have sex with men (MSM) in Auckland.
Free testing services have been increased and clinicians and lab specialists are particularly concerned that the emergent strain of gonorrhoea is showing early signs of drug resistance.
Dr Nicky Perkins, clinical director of the Auckland Regional Sexual Health Service, says testing is critical for gay and bisexual men.
“Auckland Sexual Health Services and the New Zealand AIDS Foundation (NZAF) have significantly increased their capacity to test men for gonorrhoea in response to this issue,” she says. “Gonorrhoea can infect a man’s penis, rectum or even throat and unfortunately, most men won’t have any obvious symptoms for rectal or throat infections”.
The free testing available through both the NZAF and Auckland Sexual Health Service will include an innovative rectal self-swab procedure. Dr Perkins says, “The organisations that are providing this service needed a way to test men in a way that was fast and acceptable to them. We can get accurate results through self-swabbing and also increase the number of people who will have access to the free testing services.”
Fast self-swabbing means you don’t even have to book an appointment – simply arrive at the clinic, perform the self-swab in a toilet cubicle and hand it in for testing.
Dr Perkins says the trend of increasing resistance is alarming because it means current medications may soon lose effectiveness.
“We rely on a singular treatment for gonorrhoea,” says Dr Perkins. “What that means is that if there develops widespread resistance to this medication to the point where it begins to fail, then we’ve lost our one dose options and will have to look at multiple different drugs to treat individuals with gonorrhoea. When you look at multiple drugs, it makes it harder for people to tolerate and be compliant with antibiotic use.”
Although she is concerned about the trend, Dr Perkins says the news is not all bad. “The strain of gonorrhoea that’s going around the community of gay men in Auckland right now should be taken seriously because it is showing some early signs it’s not as susceptible to the treatments that currently exist. However, at this point we still have treatment options available that will completely cure gonorrhoea – all a man needs to do to get treated is to get tested.”
It is extremely difficult to prevent the spread of gonorrhoea, but using condoms and lube for anal sex is an extremely effective way to prevent rectal gonorrhoea. A campaign promoting testing for gonorrhoea for gay and bisexual men will soon be seen in Auckland’s gay bars and venues. The campaign is a joint initiative on behalf of the NZAF, Auckland Sexual Health Services and Lab Plus, with support from the ministry of health.
Dr Perkins says, “We don’t want to blow it out of proportion – we’re not there yet – but it is cause for concern. We don’t want to be scaremongering about this. We do want to alert the community that it’s an issue that will get worse if we do nothing about it. We encourage people to be safe, be aware, checked and if need be, promptly treated.
“At the moment the treatment is still working so we don’t have to get people back in for check ups once they’ve been treated. We need to make that quite clear. In saying that, we do want people to get checked once every three months, particularly if they have had gonorrhoea in the past.”
For more information on this gay men’s health issue, visit www.gonorrhoeaisback.org.nz.