Scientists develop first vaccine against sexually transmitted disease

Jul 12, 2017, 00:30
Scientists develop first vaccine against sexually transmitted disease

For the first time, a vaccine has tested positive to act as protection against gonorrhoea, a sexually transmitted infection.

A variant of the vaccine is now given to babies in the United Kingdom as part of the routine NHS vaccination schedule. "Nothing. Gonorrhea carries on its merry little way". And that prospect is not a certainty by any means.

Oral sex and a decline in condom use are reportedly behind the spread of the disease, which can infect the genitals, rectum and throat.

Where did the story come from?

A different company, GlaxoSmithKline, has since bought Novartis' vaccine division. No conflicts of interest were declared.

Findings appeared in the journal The Lancet.

The UK media's reporting was generally accurate - but the headlines weren't. The research looked at data captured between 2004 and 2016, when drug-resistant gonorrhoea was less of a concern.

The sexually transmitted infection was previously proven to be resistant to medicine.

"A lot of these vaccines have been used widely globally", Petousis-Harris said.

What did the research involve?

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Why would a vaccine created to protect against a strain of bacteria that causes meningitis also prevent gonorrhea infection?

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.

Further analysis was done to include the 1,002 people who had both infections.

A New Zealand meningitis epidemic in the early 2000s prompted the mass vaccination of a million people and fortuitously set the scene for the current study.

It also took other factors, such as ethnicity, deprivation, geographical area, and gender, into account.

Vaccinated individuals were significantly less likely to have gonorrhoea than controls - 41% versus 51%.

According to the World Health Organization, only three new drugs to combat gonorrhoea are being tested in people. The estimated vaccine effectiveness was 31%.

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

How did the researchers interpret the results?

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"Although the Auckland study is seen as breakthrough, there is still no gonorrhoea-specific vaccine in the horizon, " the study's lead author Helen Petousis-Harris said.

"Our findings provide experimental evidence and a proof of principle that an OMV meningococcal group B vaccine could offer moderate cross-protection against gonorrhoea".

The 11 participating clinics had 15,067 individuals - 15,090 with chlamydia, 1,759 with gonorrhea, and 1,329 with both - over the study period from 2004 through 2014.

But it's hard to form any firm conclusions because of the nature of the case and control groups. "Untreated gonorrhea can also increase a person's risk of acquiring or transmitting HIV".

It could just be down to pure chance and have nothing to do with the vaccine. These structures, known as Outer Membrane Vesicles (OMV), are purified from the bacteria and used as vaccine antigens. Though it does have many similar components, we don't know if these are useful in protecting against gonorrhoea.

But a team of researchers in New Zealand has some hopeful news. That makes developing a vaccine problematic, Handsfield said.

For some reason, I have a gut feeling that a gonorrhoea vaccine is something that even antivaxxers would have an interest in. "Based upon our results, assessment of this vaccine's potential effect on gonorrhea infection seems warranted", they write. In England alone, nearly 35,000 people were affected in 2014.

Cases were defined as those with gonorrhea alone, while controls were those diagnosed with chlamydia alone.

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