The ancient disease hitting record levels – Manchester has some of the highest rates outside London

Government advisers have called for a vaccination programme to target the growing threat of a biblical disease that has hit a record high in the 21st century. The latest NHS data shows that there were more cases of gonorrhoea, the ancient sexually transmitted infection, in England in 2022 than at any time since records began more than 100 years ago.

Cases have been rising over the last few years, before dropping off during the lockdowns and isolation of the pandemic, only to return to a record high of 82,500 cases last year. That was 50 per cent more than the previous year and 16 per cent higher than before the pandemic in 2019.

Now the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised the government to offer a targeted vaccination programme to prevent the spread of gonorrhoea. The JCVI says evidence shows the 4CMenB vaccine – which is currently used to protect children from meningitis and septicaemia – offers some protection against gonorrhoea.

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However, with effectiveness documented at between 33 per cent and 42 per cent, it wouldn’t provide complete protection against the disease, but would prevent some cases. Professor Andrew Pollard, Chair of the JCVI, said: “Introducing a MenB vaccination programme to prevent gonorrhoea in England would be a world first and should significantly help to reduce levels of gonorrhoea, which are currently at a record high.”

Katy Sinka, head of sexually transmitted infections at UKHSA, added: “A vaccination programme to impact on gonorrhoea cases would be a hugely welcome intervention to ensure we are better prepared to address this increasing threat. We saw a rapid rise last year with more cases than ever before and with gonorrhoea becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, tackling this infection is a serious concern.”

Symptoms of gonorrhoea, formerly known as “the clap”, include a thick green or yellow discharge from the vagina or penis, pain when peeing and, in women, bleeding between periods. It is normally spread by having unprotected sex, or in some cases by sharing sex toys, but it can also be passed from a pregnant woman to her baby.


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