Two British women caught a strain of super gonorrhoea which is being spread by people having unprotected sex in Ibiza, health chiefs have revealed.
One of the women, the first to catch the potent STI strain in the UK, had condomless sex with a man who recently came back from the Spanish party island.
While the other is thought to have picked up the infection after having unprotected sex with multiple men in Ibiza. Both women are unidentified.
The woman who caught infection in the UK is confirmed to have spread it to at least one other man, and experts said it is ‘likely’ more people have been infected.
The link between the two cases, which were first reported by Public Health England in January, is the island off Spain’s east coast, researchers said.
Two women in the UK have been treated for cases of the same antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea, Public Health England has revealed
Health chiefs say the two cases – which have since been cured – are linked through a sexual network of Britons abroad and warn the bug ‘has the potential to spread globally’.
Gonorrhoea, which used to be known as ‘the clap’, is a bacterial infection which used to be easily treated with antibiotics.
But it is becoming increasingly difficult to fight as the bacteria are evolving and becoming resistant enough to survive front-line medications.
The strain caught by these two women could not be treated with either of two first-choice medications.
Researchers said the recent spread ‘was based around exposure in Ibiza. The common link is people who are having unprotected sex on holiday’.
In a report in the Eurosurveillance medical journal, experts wrote: ‘It is likely that there has been onward transmission from one or more undetected cases.’
They suggest people spreading the STI on holiday in Ibiza may have even caught it in the UK before they left – the cases being examined are among Britons having sex with one another on holiday.
The woman who caught it on holiday had unprotected vaginal sex with multiple men from the UK but those men could not be traced by health authorities.
Therefore experts have not been able to tell how much further the infection has spread from them.
The second woman, who caught the gonorrhoea from a man who had visited Ibiza, contracted it through vaginal and anal sex.
Auga Blanca beach, Ibiza. Both women’s diseases emanated from the party island
And she is believed to have spread it to another man by having unprotected sex with him for the first time just eight days after she was diagnosed and treated.
The woman who caught the gonorrhoea in Spain was treated successfully on the first attempt.
But the other, who lives in a different, unknown, part of the UK, needed three rounds of treatment to shift the infection – three injections and one course of antibiotics.
Surprisingly, the man who is thought to have brought the infection back and spread it to her never tested positive himself – scientists said his body ‘spontaneously cleared the infection’.
WHAT IS SUPER GONORRHOEA?
When gonorrhoea is resistant to one of two antibiotics recommended to treat it, it is known as super gonorrhoea.
All types of gonorrhoea – historically called ‘the clap’ – are caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae.
It is quick to develop and strains mutate every few years to become resistant to drugs.
Doctors have frequently changed their recommended treatments to keep up with the changing nature of the bug. It stopped responding to penicillin in the 1980s.
Symptoms of gonorrhoea include discharge, bleeding or pain when urinating.
But around one in two women and one in 10 men will not experience any signs, which is why the infection is so easily spread.
Women who do not get treatment can develop pelvic inflammatory disease – an infection of the womb and ovaries which can cause infertility.
In pregnancy, it can cause miscarriage, premature birth or lead to babies developing problems with their vision.
Patients with super gonorrhoea can be given some other treatments which might work but can have unpleasant side effects.
Health experts warn it is only a matter of time before the bug mutates to resist these remaining antibiotics too. They recommend using condoms and regular testing to prevent spread of the disease.
Dr Nick Phin, deputy director of the National Infection Service at Public Health England, said: ‘Two women were treated for extensively drug resistant gonorrhoea in the autumn of 2018.
‘These cases serve as a reminder of the importance of protecting yourself against sexually transmitted infections.
‘This includes using condoms consistently and correctly with all new and casual sexual partners.’
The doctor also reminded that it is important to tell fresh partners of any existing STIs.
‘While cases are currently very rare,’ Dr Phin added, ‘we have alerted and encourage European public health agencies and sexual health clinicians to be aware that this gonorrhoea strain has the potential to spread in Europe.’
These women’s cases are the first in which Britons have caught the infection without there being a link to Asia, Public Health England said in January.
A man who caught super gonorrhoea when cheating on his partner with a woman in Thailand was the first person from the UK to catch the STI, in January 2018.
The increasing antibiotic resistance of the gonorrhoea bacteria is coinciding with rising numbers of infections.
Around 45,000 people were diagnosed with gonorrhoea in the UK in 2017, a rise of 22 per cent from the year before and a 10-year high.
If left untreated it can cause life-threatening and permanent health problems including infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease and arthritis.
In response to the challenge of treating the condition without allowing it to mutate and fight off antibiotics, experts in January recommended upping the treatment dose.
The British Association of Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) said the NHS should double the dose of one antibiotic used to treat the illness.
This would mean UK doctors using four times as much ceftriaxone as recommended by the World Health Organisation in a bid to stop the potent infection.