(CN) — As drug-resistant strains of gonorrhea expand globally, British scientists are using genetic sequencing to monitor the disease and establish a coalition for stopping it from spreading further.
Researchers from Brighton University, Oxford University and Public Health England published a study Monday in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases, which examined 1,300 samples of gonorrhea collected in Brighton between 2011 and 2015.
After comparing the samples with samples from London, Northern England, Wales and the United States, the researchers found that 18 percent of Brighton infections were connected to cases in other parts of the U.K., while 9 percent were associated with cases in the United States.
“There are 78 million cases of gonorrhea across the world each year, with almost 35,000 in England in 2014, an increase of 19% on the previous year,” John Paul of Public Health England said. “However, not all cases lead to obvious symptoms, meaning that some people may go untreated and unaware, spreading the disease.”
Tracing past sexual partners is the traditional way that researchers understand how a disease is spreading. But this method relies on people knowing that they have a disease and being willing to identify former sexual partners.
David Eyre, a co-author of the study, said that sequencing can overcome some of the weaknesses associated with present strategies for monitoring the spread of gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases, while simultaneously enabling scientists to identify risk factors and effectively target treatment intervention.
“There are several potential applications of this study. It clearly shows that action to tackle antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea needs to be coordinated across national boundaries. However, using whole genome sequencing to track transmission of these infections is feasible,” Eyre said. “It could even be used to notify contacts by using the same apps used to set up sexual encounters.”
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