Between March and August this year, 12 cases of drug-resistant gonorrhoea have been confirmed in Leeds, and a further four cases in Macclesfield, Oldham and Scunthorpe, sparking a national alert.
PHE has confirmed the outbreak strain is resistant to the first-line treatment azithromycin, but patients can still be treated with alternative antibiotics at this time.
But Dr Mike Gent, consultant in communicable disease control for PHE, warned that ‘we cannot afford to be complacent’.
He said: ‘We can confirm investigations are underway into an outbreak of gonorrhoea in the North of England.
‘Those affected are being treated with an alternative antibiotic, but the resistance to first line treatment remains a concern. The bacterium that cause gonorrhoea are known to mutate and develop new resistance, so we cannot afford to be complacent.
'Healthcare professionals in the areas concerned have been asked to be vigilant to further cases and PHE remains alert to any new and emerging resistance trends.’
GPC deputy chairman Dr Richard Vautrey, who practises in Leeds, said GPs should look to advice from local microbiologist specialists for the most appropriate second- and third-line options.
He said: ‘With all resistant infections, GPs will take advice of local microbiologist specialists when getting an assessment of best antibiotics to use in resistant situations. It’s the specialist who will provide that advice as to what treatment is the best approach and that may vary from area to area.
‘It’s not unusual with gonorrhoea and other multi-resistant infections for local microbiologists to look at second or third-line drugs they recommend, but they need to be used very carefully. This is just another sign of the real challenges we’re facing as a nation in regards to antibiotic resistance, and it is likely to become more of an issue as time goes on.’