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A breakthrough's been reported in the search for a gonorrhea vaccine

WELLINGTON -- A vaccine has for the first time shown evidence of protecting against the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea, according to a New Zealand study published in medical journal The Lancet on Tuesday.

Researchers at the University of Auckland found that people who were injected with a vaccine against meningitis B during a New Zealand immunization program between 2004 and 2006 were about 30 per cent less likely to contract gonorrhea than a control group.

Meningococcal B bacteria share about 80 to 90 per cent of their DNA with the bacteria that causes gonorrhea, the scientists said, and so a link was "plausible."

Despite a century of research, efforts to find a vaccine against gonorrhea, a fast-spreading disease that can lead to infertility, have been unsuccessful.

Although the Auckland study is seen as a breakthrough, there is still no gonorrhea-specific vaccine on the horizon, the study's lead author Helen Petousis-Harris told dpa.

There were many research teams working on possible candidate vaccines, but nothing is close to being available for the general public yet, she said.

"However, we may have meningococcal B vaccines that provide moderate protection and modelling suggests that [they] could make a big difference to the rates of disease until we can develop more effective options," she added.

On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that gonorrhea cases were rising and that some strains were becoming resistant to all available drugs.

Two-thirds of the countries that report resistance data to WHO have seen cases in which their antibiotics of last resort no longer worked against gonococci bacteria in recent years.

The U.N. health agency estimates that 78 million people are infected with gonorrhea every year.

The main reasons for the increase are decreasing condom use, increased mobility, poor disease monitoring and inadequate treatment, according to the WHO.

Gonorrhea can infect the genitals, rectum and throat. It can lead to inflammation of the pelvis and to infertility.

It's cases in the throat that are most worrying, experts say, as that environment is highly conducive to the growth of bacteria, giving rise to so-called "super bacteria."

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