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Open Access Research article

The epidemiology of gonorrhoea in Norway, 1993–2007: past victories, future challenges

Irena Jakopanec, Katrine Borgen and Preben Aavitsland*

Author Affiliations

Department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Norwegian Institute of Public Health, PO Box 4404 Nydalen, N-0403 Oslo, Norway

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2009, 9:33  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-9-33

Published: 19 March 2009

Abstract

Background

Gonorrhoea, a bacterial infection caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae, has been increasing in several European countries, particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM) and teenagers. We describe the epidemiology of gonorrhoea in Norway in the recent 15 years in order to guide recommendations on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of gonorrhoea. An evaluation of the Norwegian Surveillance System for Communicable Diseases (MSIS) in 1994, involving GPs and microbiological laboratories, suggested that the system has a high coverage, capturing over 90% of patients diagnosed with gonorrhoea.

Methods

Using MSIS data on gonorrhoea cases we analysed specific trends by route of transmission, age, gender, anatomical sampling site, antimicrobial resistance and travel history from 1993–2007 and, to focus on more recent trends, from 2003–2007. MSM and heterosexual cases were defined by route of transmission.

Results

From 1993 to 2007, 3601 gonorrhoea cases were reported. MSM cases increased from 10 in 1994 to 109 cases in 2004. From 2003–2007, the incidence of gonorrhoea was 5.4/100,000 person-years (95%CI: 4.9–6.0). Over these five years, MSM accounted for an average of 80 cases per year, of which 69% were infected by casual partners. In the same period, 98% of heterosexually infected had a positive swab from urethra only and only two (0.3%) from the pharynx. Only one woman (0.5%) was positive from the rectum. From 1993 – 2007, antimicrobial resistance results were reported for 3325 N. gonorrhoeae isolates (98% of cultured samples). The proportion resistant to quinolone has risen from 3% in 1995 to 47% in 2007, with 81% of the latter isolated from patients infected in Asia.

Conclusion

The overall incidence of gonorrhoea in Norway remains low, but the increasing number of MSM cases calls for new, more effective approaches to prevention. Infections originating from abroad represent a constant risk of importing antimicrobial resistant N. gonorrhoeae. Due to the prevalence of quinolone resistant N. gonorrhoeae in Norway, third-generation cephalosporins should replace quinolones as the first choice in treatment guidelines. We advocate antimicrobial susceptibility testing for all cases and recommend taking samples for culture from all exposed anatomical sites.