The prevalence of gonorrhea is increasing, and this sexually transmitted infection is becoming increasingly resistant to medications, prompting concerns about a potential superbug.
Fortunately, while there is no vaccination for gonorrhea, two new trials suggest that a meningitis vaccine may provide some protection against this STD.
According to US News, two vaccines are available to protect against meningitis, a potentially fatal inflammation of the membranes that shield the brain and spine. The A, C, W, and Y strains are protected by the MenACWY vaccinations (Menactra, Menveo, and MenQuadfi), while the B strain is protected by the MenB-4C vaccine (Bexsero). The MenB-4C vaccine, which is not usually recommended for all teenagers and young adults, was the subject of the current research.
Dr. Winston Abara, an epidemiologist from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of STD Prevention, said, “The MenB-4C vaccination may offer cross-protection against gonorrhea, but clinical trials to test vaccine efficacy are still needed.”
Abara’s study wasn’t intended to explain how the MenB-4C vaccination would protect against gonorrhea. Still, he speculated that it could be due to genetic similarities between N. meningitidis and N. gonorrhoeae, the gonorrhea-causing organism. Although they are linked, these two bacteria produce disease in entirely different ways.
“MenB-4C clinical trials are ongoing, and they are required to properly and accurately characterize the mechanism of gonorrhea prevention,” Abara said.
According to the CDC, gonorrhea is spread through sex and is most common among 15 to 24. Symptoms include painful or scorching urine and discharge from the penis or vaginal area. However, not everyone will experience them. Gonorrhea, if left untreated, can create significant issues in both men and women.
Researchers looked at the health records of about 110,000 16- to 23-year-olds in New York City and Philadelphia from 2016 to 2018 to determine who had been diagnosed with gonorrhea or chlamydia, another STD. (Though chlamydia and gonorrhea have comparable risk factors, chlamydia is not protected by the meningitis vaccine.) After that, they looked through immunization data to discover who had received the MenB-4C vaccine.
More than 18,000 gonorrhea cases were discovered, and roughly 7,700 persons were vaccinated with MenB-4C, with about half receiving only one dosage and the rest receiving both. The study found that a complete MenB-4C vaccination gave 40% protection against gonorrhea and a single dose provided 26% protection.
Two doses of the vaccine were 33 percent effective against gonorrhea in adolescents and young adults in related research in South Australia.
Dr. Helen Marshall, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Adelaide in Australia, said, “There is potential to protect against two deadly illnesses with one vaccine.”
“We don’t know how long this protection will stay,” she added. “We’ll keep an eye on it to see if there is a continuing effect or if the protection against gonorrhea is fading.”
The Lancet Infectious Diseases published both papers online on April 12th.
Dr. Robert Grossberg is the medical director of Montefiore Medical Center’s Center for Positive Living/ID Clinic and an associate professor of medicine at New York City’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “This new study adds to the current evidence that the meningitis vaccine may protect people from gonorrhea,” he said.
According to Grossberg, who was not involved in the research, the MenB vaccine is now recommended for adults and teens at an elevated risk of meningitis, such as those who have specific immunological problems, take certain medications, or take certain medications are exposed to a meningitis outbreak.
“I anticipate I will be considerably more willing to prescribe this vaccination or some related formulation if we believe it is protective against gonorrhea,” Grossberg added. “Given how frequent gonorrhea is in the teenage and young adult population, and the fact that the bacteria that causes it is becoming increasingly antibiotic-resistant, a vaccination is a critical strategy for preventing sickness.”