The Clap is Back
Ladies, cross your legs – this is going to get uncomfortable.
The Clap is coming back. And no, sadly, I’m not talking about that great indie band you vaguely remember seeing that time - I’m talking the discharge-y, burning pee sexually transmitted infection otherwise known as gonorrhoea.
Diagnoses of gonorrhoea have increased by more than 50 per cent in the past five years, from fewer than 8,000 cases in 2007 to more than 12,000 last year.
Chlamydia, too, has seen a massive increase; with rates tripling over the past ten years (although some experts believe part of that increase could be explained by doctors testing for it more often).
While the Clap can bring nasty symptoms, often the infected person will have none at all, so they never get treated for an infection that can lead to infertility. Chances are they also keep on having unprotected sex and passing it on to others.
Christopher Fairley, a professor of sexual health at the University of Melbourne, says when the Clap is transmitted during anal or oral sex it is often asymptomatic (making gay men at particular risk).
“In women the symptoms also aren’t as striking, they can be a bit more of a slight vaginal discharge or discomfort,” he says.
But the scariest thing about gonorrhoea is its future. Currently once we do find it, there’s an antibiotic to wipe it out.
But slowly, steadily, it is mutating; getting harder and harder to treat with drugs.
And Fairley says there is simply not enough awareness of the potential risks.
“Like most things, until the plane crashes it’s not that important,” he says.
Already some of the resistant bugs have spread to the point that we can’t use traditional antibiotics to treat gonorrhoea any more, says David Whiley, and associate professor at the University of Queensland.
Currently about 3 to 5 per cent of gonorrhoea tests done in Australia find bugs that are resistant to the main antibiotic we use to treat it.
But a strain that is resistant to all antibiotics has been found in Japan while another, found in France, only a short time later jumped to Spain.
“It’s basically just a matter of time before we see it globally and in Australia,” says Whiley, who is presenting at International Union Against Sexually Transmitted Infections World Congress in Melbourne next week.
Traditionally gonorrhoea tests involve growing the bug and then testing its resistance while it is still alive; a process which can miss some cases.
More accurate DNA tests have been developed, but they can only test for specific strains before killing the bacteria.
In Whiley’s lab they are developing a world-first DNA test which won’t kill it, allowing for highly accurate tests that are also able to pick up other strains.
“We are leading the world on this,” Whiley says. When the resistant Japanese strain broke out, it was Whiley’s lab that developed a test and handed it over to Japan.
They have also just developed a test for the European strain.
“Some of these strains are almost inevitably going to hit Australia and I want to make sure that all our labs, as soon as the red flag goes up… can deal with it before it becomes a big problem here,” he says.
Until then, while he says people shouldn’t panic, the threat is “just another reason to practice safe sex”.