Record-Breaking Gonorrhoea Rates Spark Concern

Landspítali national hospital

According to the Directorate of Health, 213 individuals have been diagnosed with gonorrhoea in the first eight months of 2023, surpassing last year’s total of 158 cases, which had broken a 30-year record. The surge in cases, particularly among men aged 25-34 and women aged 25-29, has sparked debate over declining condom use and the rise of antibiotic-resistant strains.

Underlying cause remains uncertain

In the first eight months of this year, 213 individuals have been diagnosed with the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhoea, surpassing the total number of cases recorded last year, according to the Directorate of Health. The 2022 figure broke a three-decade record; after 1990, the incidence of the disease had greatly decreased.

Data from the Directorate of Health reveals that the most significant uptick in cases occurred among men aged 25 to 34 and women aged 25 to 29. While gonorrhoea cases are generally less frequent in women, year-to-year fluctuations are more pronounced.

The underlying cause of this surge remains uncertain, sparking debate over whether declining condom usage should be investigated, particularly in neighbouring countries. Another theory posits that asymptomatic individuals may unknowingly transmit the infection, especially in the absence of condom use.

The Directorate of Health notes that similar trends have been observed across continental Europe and other Nordic countries. Growing alarm surrounds antibiotic-resistant strains of gonorrhoea, heightening concerns over their potential spread. “Increased antibiotic resistance complicates the treatment of gonorrhoea with antibiotics, thereby hindering efforts to contain and eradicate the disease,” the Directorate warns.

As noted by the Directorate of Health: “In men, the most common symptom is burning or discomfort when urinating (urethritis) with pus-like discharge from the urethra. Asymptomatic infection in men is less common than in women. Symptoms of infection in the urinary and genital organs of women are often altered or increased discharge and pain around the lower abdomen. Other symptoms include abnormal bleeding between menstrual periods, burning sensations or discomfort when urinating. Women are often asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.”

Increased Antibiotic Use a Concern, Says Health Directorate

Antibiotic use among Icelanders increased by a little over 3% last year as compared to the year before, Kjarninn reports. The Directorate of Heath’s annual report on “Antibiotic Use and Antibiotic Receptivity in People and Animals in Iceland” did find, however, that Iceland’s use of antibiotics on animals is among the lowest in Europe.

The Directorate expressed a certain disappointment over the finding that Icelandic antibiotic use has gone up, particularly given that over the same time period, it’s gone down for people in other Nordic countries. It was found that antibiotic use has consistently been highest among patients aged 65 and older, followed by children aged five and under. Antibiotic use among the youngest patients did actually reduce between 2016 and 2017, and yet, when compared with previous years, antibiotic use among children was still on the rise during 2016. Antibiotic use among patients 65 and older has not experienced any such dips, but simply steadily increased over the years.

Antibiotic resistance is still relatively low in Iceland when compared to its neighboring countries. This has remained largely unchanged since 2016.

In April 2017, a working group under the supervision of the Health Minister submitted a report that outlined ten recommendations for fighting the spread of antibiotic resistance. These included recommendations on reducing the use of antibiotics among people, as well as monitoring antibiotic resistance in bacteria found in both foreign and domestic foodstuffs.

In 2018, efforts were made to increase awareness among doctors about the risks of over-prescribing antibiotics. The Directorate of Health hopes that this will lead to doctors reducing the amount of antibiotics prescribed to patients. Per the recommendation of the working group, foodstuffs also started to be monitored for antibiotic-resistant bacteria and research began on antibiotic resistance in general.

“Hopefully, all of these factors will prove useful in combating the spread of antibiotic resistance which is considered to be one of the most pressing health threats of our time,” concluded the Directorate of Health.