A number of cases with identical etiology were reported in several countries in Asia, Europe and in the United States; an epidemiological link with worldwide travel to Saudi Arabia, during which close contact with returning pilgrims could be established, was also reported. The research looked at data captured between 2004 and 2016, when drug-resistant gonorrhoea was less of a concern. Folks who had received the meningitis vaccine were less likely to have showed up with a case of gonorrhea-the researchers' math showed that the meningitis vaccine might have protected against 31 percent of gonorrhea cases.
Fellow researcher Prof Steven Black, from Cincinnati Children's Hospital in the USA, said: "The potential ability of a group B meningococcal vaccine to provide even moderate protection against gonorrhoea would have substantial public health benefits". It turns out that the meningitis vaccine seems to have led to a decrease in gonorrhea cases.
Because so many mutated strains existed around the world - including some that are totally immune to known antibiotics - the researchers caution that the vaccine might not work everywhere and thus warrant more research.
Called MeNZB vaccine, it was developed to control a meningitis epidemic in New Zealand from 2004 to 2006 and is no longer available.
For the study, Petousis-Harris and colleagues reviewed information on about 1 million people who received the MeNZB vaccine in a mass immunization program.
Black said this suggests that the vaccine, which was effective against mild infections, may be more effective against the more severe cases.
As drug resistance spreads, doctors are diagnosing more and more cases that can not be treated by antibiotics, making it a major public health concern.
The publication of the study is timely - just last week the World Health Organization issued a warning about the rise in antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhoea.
"This is the first time a vaccine has shown any protection against gonorrhoea", Dr Helen Petousis-Harris said. That knowledge could help researchers design a more targeted gonorrhea vaccine.
That may explain why the B vaccine appears to offer some protection against Neisseria gonorrhea.
Previous efforts to develop a vaccine have been unsuccessful, but population data has recently shown that use of the outer membrane vesicle (OMV) meningococcal group B vaccine in Cuba, New Zealand, and Norway is associated with a decline in gonorrhea.
With gonorrhea, however, getting the infection doesn't confer immunity to getting it again. Among more than 14,700 cases and controls for analyses, there were 1,241 incidences of gonorrhea, 12,487 incidences of chlamydia, and 1,002 incidences of coinfection.
The researchers found that people who had been vaccinated with the MeNZB vaccine were less likely to have gonorrhea than those who weren't (41 percent versus 51 percent). "It is likely to collapse epidemiologically if even a small fraction of the population is effectively vaccinated, or if a large fraction gets a vaccine with relatively low efficacy".
The estimated vaccine effectiveness remained significant, they found, whether co-infected people were included as controls or cases - 29% and 23%, respectively.
Petousis-Harris was clear about what needed to happen next. Also, access to such clinics is poor outside of the cities.
Gonorrhea, on the other hand, is bad. A different company, GlaxoSmithKline, has since bought Novartis' vaccine division.