'When, not if': New Zealand warned super-gonorrhoea on its way

  • 23/04/2018

Don Rowe for The Spinoff

A historically resistant strain of gonorrhoea has made its way from South East Asia to the UK and Australia, and experts are warning we are next.

Antibiotic resistant superbugs? They're like climate change, that island of plastic in the Pacific or death itself - someone else's problem for now.

It's in Eastern Australia, and it's in Queensland. How long before it makes its way across the gap, deported like a naughty gangster? According to Family Planning's Christine Roke, "if it isn't here now, it will be very soon."

Auckland University associate professor of infectious diseases Mark Thomas agrees, telling Morning Report it's "almost certain" there will be cases within the next year or two. It's simply a matter of "who has sex with who," he said, using the S-word as much as humanly possible on the radio.

Super-gonorrhoea, coming to a genital near you.

Oh no. Is it dangerous?

Yes, dangerous and silly. Friends beware, there are rude words ahead.

While one in 10 men and three quarters of all women show no recognisable symptoms, according to the Ministry of Health, symptoms of gonorrhoea can include: discoloured discharge, stomach pain, various forms of bleeding from the genitalia, discharge or bleeding from the anus and, for the fellas, sore testes. Occasionally you may also get a dry throat.

Women are most commonly effected on the cervix, which lacks sensation. "You could be infected on the cervix, at the top of your vagina, and be totally unaware of it," Thomas told Susie Ferguson. "Well, not you specifically, but somebody else."

"Indeed," said Susie Ferguson.

Severe and untreated gonorrhoea can lead to dangerous complications and infertility in both men and women. Normally this wouldn't be a real concern - we live in the first world and antibiotics are all too easy to get a hold of. But that's exactly the problem. The traditional method of dealing with The Clap is a cocktail of complimentary antibiotics, taken orally and by injection under medical supervision. This is different from the backpacker method, which is mainly to boof whatever antibiotics you can barter for until the problem goes away or you just straight up forget.

When you don't finish the bugger off it only grows stronger, learning from its brush with Big Pharma and armouring itself with that knowledge.

"The problem with gonorrhoea is it's a very wily bug," says Roke. "And it's able to mutate very easily. This leads to developing resistance."

And, as Mark Thomas says, we'll likely reach a point where we run out of drugs with which to treat gonorrhoea at all, resistant or no. That could happen in the next ten years.

How is it getting here?

Like most naughty stuff; by plane. Christine Roke says with international travel what it is these days, it's a matter of time before someone guilty of doing the rude thing abroad smuggles gonorrhoea into the country alongside their untreated wooden masks and home brand Valium. As invasive as customs can feel, we're not exactly screening for this stuff at the border.

What can I do to avoid it?

The safest course of action is not to sleep with Australians, or anyone at all for that matter. Should you decide to live in sin, it's basic, common sense stuff: use a condom, use a dam, and use your discretion - good advice in any situation.

The problem, according to Roke, is that we collectively just get so bloody razzed up by the rude stuff.

"Most people know you need to use condoms but in the heat of the moment not many people are thinking back to sex ed," she says. "Unfortunately they just get on with it, and this is the result."

We have only ourselves to blame.