Genomics tracking gonorrhoea across borders

14 July 2016

A new study has found bacterial genome sequencing can be used effectively across borders to track the spread of gonorrhoeae infection, and highlights the need for coordinated national and international strategies to stop the spread of drug-resistance.

There are roughly 78 million cases of the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhoeae documented across the world in a year, and between 2013 and 2014 the number of cases increased by 19% in England. 

The UK-led team sequenced the genomes of nearly 1300 samples of gonorrhoea collected in Brighton between 2011 and 2015. Using a new genetic sequencing-based tool, they analysed these alongside sequences from gonorrhoeae samples from other part of the UK or US.  

The team demonstrated they could follow gonorrhoea transmission events within Brighton and across international borders. They found three-quarter of infections in Brighton could be linked to earlier Brighton cases but also found evidence of gonorrhoea spreading to and from Brighton from the rest of the UK and the US, including drug-resistant infections.

Dr David Eyre, who co-led the study, from Oxford University, said: “Sequencing can overcome some of the weaknesses in traditional partner notification tracing, while at the same time enabling us to spot risk factors and better target health interventions. It could even be used to notify contacts by using the same apps used to set up sexual encounters.

In an accompanying commentary, University of Toronto researchers Vanessa Allen and Roberto Melano said: “The development of new genomic epidemiological tools for antimicrobial surveillance and analysis of resistance dissemination is key to improvement of the public health response to emerging infectious diseases.

Last year the PHG Foundation undertook a comprehensive review of the field of pathogen genomics, examining how to push the technology from the research institutes and laboratories into mainstream national infectious disease services. 

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