11 Nov 2019

2019 CCS research highlights: Melbourne Sexual Health Centre - transmission of gonorrhoea

the 2019 CCS public lecture
Monash University's Central Clinical School (CCS) is at the cutting edge of medical research in national and international arenas. We are publishing a series of CCS research highlights from across 2019.

In this article, we feature a highlight from the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (MSHC).
  • Researchers challenge views on gonorrhoea spread

MSHC researchers have proposed a new theory about the way gonorrhoea is transmitted that challenges conventional thinking and which may transform the way the disease is prevented in men who have sex with men.

Gonorrhoea, caused by the bacterium Neisseria gonorrhoeae, can cause serious complications if left untreated, including arthritis, and in women pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause infertility. It is becoming more common and increasingly resistant to antibiotics.

“We think the accepted transmission of gonorrhoea via the penis is wrong and have proposed a new theory where the mouth and saliva plays a key role,” the MSHC’s Professor Christopher Fairley said.

In an article in the prestigious Lancet Infectious Diseases, Professor Fairley argues for a new framework of gonorrhoea transmission in men who have sex with men in which the mouth plays a major role in transmitting gonorrhoea to, or acquiring gonorrhoea from, a partner's oropharynx, penis, or rectum through either direct contact or via saliva. The article maintains that existing epidemiological and behavioural data best fit this model.

The MSHC made headlines globally in 2016 when research it conducted suggested that gargling with mouthwash may kill the bacteria causing gonorrhoea and therefore may play a major role in its prevention.

See more detail in our 15 May 2019 story.

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