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Home News centre National Press Releases 2013 Press Releases ›  New action plan launched to combat emerging threat of untreatable gonorrhoea in England and Wales

New action plan launched to combat emerging threat of untreatable gonorrhoea in England and Wales

27 February 2013

The first Gonorrhoea Resistance Action Plan for England and Wales is published today, recommending a heightened national response to combat this serious threat. The Action Plan was developed by the Gonococcal Resistance to Antimicrobials Surveillance Programme (GRASP), established by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) to monitor the growing global problem of emerging resistance over the last decade in the absence of new therapeutic options.

Gonorrhoea is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI) in England. In 2011, new diagnoses rose to nearly 21,000, jumping 25 per cent in one year. Over a third of cases were in men who have sex with men, up from around a quarter in 2010. GRASP 2011 data suggest that up to third of reported cases were repeat gonorrhoea infections.

Professor Cathy Ison, lead author of the GRASP Action Plan, HPA, said: “Ensuring treatment resistant gonorrhoea strains do not persist and spread remains a major public health concern. The GRASP Action Plan raises awareness of this important issue and sets out practical, measurable actions to extend the useful life of the current recommended therapies in England and Wales.”

In England and Wales, the risk of gonorrhoea resistance developing in current first-line therapies (ceftriaxone and azithromycin) fell slightly for the first time in five years in 2011. However, cases of treatment failure have now been reported globally and, with no new antimicrobial agents in the pipeline, England’s Chief Medical Officer recently advised government to add the threat of infection resistance to frontline antibiotics to the civil emergencies risk register.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer, said: "We have seen a worrying rise in cases of drug resistant gonorrhoea over the last decade. Antimicrobial resistance to common drugs will increasingly threaten our ability to tackle infections and the Health Protection Agency's work is vital to addressing this threat. As Chief Medical Officer, and with the Department of Health, I am supporting the work of the HPA with my forthcoming annual report Volume Two, which focuses on infections and antimicrobial resistance, and the Department's new UK five year Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy and Action Plan."

The GRASP Action Plan supports the public health control of gonorrhoea, and gonorrhoea resistance, by providing guidance on robust and timely data collection, rapid detection of treatment failures, adherence to management guidelines, and actions to reduce gonorrhoea transmission.

Dr Gwenda Hughes, head of STI surveillance at the HPA, said: “We are seriously concerned about continuing high levels of gonorrhoea transmission and repeat infection, suggesting we need to do more to reduce unsafe sexual behaviour. The GRASP Action Plan advocates comprehensive health promotion programmes to encourage safer sexual behaviour, particularly in higher risk groups such as men who have sex with men, alongside maintaining good access to STI screening and sexual health services.”


Notes to editors

1. The risk of getting or transmitting gonorrhoea is reduced by:

  • Always use a condom correctly and consistently when having sex with new or casual partners, until all partners have had a sexual health screen.
  • Avoid overlapping sexual relationships and reduce the number of sexual partners.
  • Get screened regularly if you are in one of the higher risk groups. Men who have sex with men should have an HIV and STI screen at least annually, and every three months if having unprotected sex with new or casual partners.

2.  The GRASP Action Plan is now available from the HPA website's Antimicrobial Resistance Data - Gonorrhoea page.

3. GRASP a national sentinel surveillance programme monitoring trends and drifts in susceptibility to antimicrobial agents for gonorrhoea, collecting three month data from 24 clinics in England and Wales. Data for 2011 (July – September):

  • 1,359 confirmed gonorrhoea samples from 1,534 isolates submitted.
  • Over 95 per cent of samples submitted from GUM clinics, with 50 percent from London patients.
  • Men who have sex with men (49 per cent), heterosexual men (28 per cent), women (23 per cent)
  • Almost 40 per cent between 25 – 34 years old

4. The Health Protection Agency is an independent UK organisation set up by the government in 2003 to protect the public from threats to their health from infectious diseases and environmental hazards. In April 2013 the Health Protection Agency will become part of a new organisation called Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health. To find out more, visit our website: or follow us on Twitter @HPAuk.

5. For more information please contact the national HPA press office at Colindale on 0208 327 7901 or email Out of hours: 0208 200 4400.



Last reviewed: 26 February 2013