Australian Gonococcal Surveillance Programme, 1 July to 30 September 2015

The Australian Gonococcal Surveillance Programme monitors anticrobial resistance in the treatments for gonocococcal infections. This quarterly report describes the results for the xx quarter of 2015.

Page last updated: 11 April 2016

Monica M Lahra, Rodney P Enriquez, The Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, for The National Neisseria Network


The Australian National Neisseria Network (NNN) comprises reference laboratories in each state and territory that report data on sensitivity to an agreed group of antimicrobial agents for the Australian Gonococcal Surveillance Programme (AGSP). The antibiotics are penicillin, ceftriaxone, azithromycin and ciprofloxacin, which are current or potential agents used for the treatment of gonorrhoea. Azithromycin testing has been recently introduced by all states and territories as it is part of a dual therapy regimen with ceftriaxone recommended for the treatment of gonorrhoea in the majority of Australia. Because of the substantial geographic differences in susceptibility patterns in Australia, regional as well as aggregated data are presented. In certain remote regions of the Northern Territory and Western Australia gonococcal antimicrobial resistance rates are low and an oral treatment regimen comprising amoxycillin, probenecid and azithromycin is recommended for the treatment of gonorrhoea. When in vitro resistance to a recommended agent is demonstrated in 5% or more of isolates from a general population, it is usual to remove that agent from the list of recommended treatments.1 Additional data on other antibiotics are reported in the AGSP annual report. The AGSP has a program-specific quality assurance process. The AGSP data are presented quarterly in tabulated form, as well as in the AGSP annual report. For more information see Commun Dis Intell 2016;40(1):E178–E179.


A summary of the proportion of isolates with decreased susceptibility to ceftriaxone, and the proportion resistant to azithromycin, penicillin and ciprofloxacin are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Gonococcal isolates showing decreased susceptibility to ceftriaxone and resistance to azithromycin, penicillin and ciprofloxacin, Australia, 1 July to 30 September 2015, by state or territory
State or territory Number of isolates tested Decreased susceptibility Resistance
Ceftriaxone Azithromycin Penicillin Ciprofloxacin
n % n % n % n %
Australian Capital Territory 18 0 0.0 0 0.0 1 5.6 2 11.0
New South Wales 506 7 1.4 12 2.4 159 31.0 178 35.0
Queensland 176 3 1.7 5 2.8 40 23.0 38 22.0
South Australia 57 5 8.8 2 3.5 18 32.0 26 46.0
Tasmania 3 0 0.0 0 0.0 1 33.0 0 0.0
Victoria 399 7 1.8 3 0.8 55 14.0 83 21.0
Northern Territory/Urban and Rural 16 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0
Northern Territory/Remote 32 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0 0 0.0
Western Australia/Urban and Rural 101 1 1.0 0 0.0 14 14.0 19 19.0
Western Australia/Remote 25 0 0.0 0 0.0 1 4.0 1 4.0
Australia 1,333 23 1.7 22 1.7 289 22.0 347 26.0

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Penicillin resistant Neisseria gonorrhoeae are defined as those isolates with a minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) to penicillin equal to or greater than 1.0 mg/L. Penicillin resistance includes penicillinase producing N. gonorrhoeae (PPNG), and N. gonorrhoeae that have chromosomally mediated resistance to penicillin (CMRP). In certain areas of the Northern Territory and Western Australia, which are classified as remote, a treatment regimen based on oral amoxycillin, probenecid and azithromycin is used. Due to the distance specimens must travel in these remote regions to a laboratory, low numbers of cultures are collected, and thus, by necessity, nucleic acid amplification testing (NAAT) is used. In remote Western Australia the introduction of a targeted NAAT, developed by the NNN to detect PPNG, is in use to enhance surveillance.2,3


Ciprofloxacin resistance includes isolates with an MIC to ciprofloxacin equal to or greater than 1.0 mg/L.


Azithromycin resistance is defined as a MIC to azithromycin equal to or greater than 1.0 mg/L.


Ceftriaxone MIC values in the range 0.06–0.125 mg/L have been reported in the category decreased susceptibility since 2005.

In the 3rd quarter of 2015 the states that reported isolates with decreased susceptibility to ceftriaxone were New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and urban Western Australia. All states, except for South Australia, reported a decrease in the proportion of NG isolates with DS to ceftriaxone when compared with the same quarter in 2014; and the annual data for 2014.4

From New South Wales, there were 7/506 strains with decreased susceptibility to ceftriaxone. Of those, 5 (72%) were multi-drug resistant (MDR); all (100%) were from males; and 2 (29%) were isolated from extragenital sites (rectal and pharyngeal). From Victoria, there were 7/399 strains with decreased susceptibility to ceftriaxone and, of those, 3 (43%) were MDR; all (100%) were from males; and 6 (86%) were isolated from extragenital sites. From Queensland, there were 3/176 strains with decreased susceptibility to ceftriaxone. Of those, none were MDR; 2 (67%) were from males; and 2 (67%) were from extragenital sites. From urban Western Australia, there was 1/101 strains with decreased susceptibility to ceftriaxone. The isolate was from a male; it was not MDR; nor isolated from extragenital sites. From South Australia in this quarter, there were 5/57 strains with decreased susceptibility to ceftriaxone. All (100%) were MDR; 4 (80%) were from males and 35 (60%) were isolated from extragenital sites.

The proportion of strains with decreased susceptibility to ceftriaxone is of increasing concern in Australia and overseas, as this is phenotypic of the genotype with the key mutations that are the precursor to ceftriaxone resistance.5 There are recent reports of ceftriaxone 500 mg treatment failures in patients from Victoria and New South Wales in patients with pharyngeal gonococcal infections. In these patients the infecting gonococcal strains had ceftriaxone MIC values in the range 0.03–0.06 mg/L.6,7 Until 2013 there had not been an isolate reported in Australia with a ceftriaxone MIC value >0.125 mg/L.4 In late December 2013 there was a new multi-drug resistant gonococcal strain (A8806) with a ceftriaxone MIC of 0.5 mg/L, the highest ever reported in Australia, that was isolated from a female traveller from Central Europe. This infection was acquired in Sydney from another traveller, also from Europe. The patient was tested in the Northern Territory, but had travelled to north eastern Queensland before the results were available, and was treated there. To date there has been no evidence of spread of this strain.8

The category of ceftriaxone decreased susceptibility as reported by the AGSP includes the MIC values 0.06 and 0.125 mg/L (Table 2).

Table 2: Percentage of gonococcal isolates with decreased susceptibility to ceftriaxone MIC 0.06–0.125 mg/L, Australia, 2010 to 2014, 1 January to 31 March 2015, 1 April to 30 June 2015, and 1 July to 30 September, by state or territory
MIC mg/L
2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 Q1 2015 Q2 2015 Q3
0.06 4.6 3.2 4.1 8.2 4.8 1.6 1.1 1.7
0.125 0.1 0.1 0.3 0.6 0.6 0.1 0.0 0.0

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Dual therapy of ceftriaxone plus azithromycin is the recommended treatment for gonorrhoea as a strategy to temper development of more widespread resistance.8 Patients with infections in extra genital sites, where the isolate has decreased susceptibility to ceftriaxone, are recommended to have test of cure cultures collected. Continued surveillance to monitor N. gonorrhoeae with elevated MIC values, coupled with sentinel site surveillance in high risk populations remains important to inform therapeutic strategies, to identify incursion of resistant strains, and to detect instances of treatment failure.

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  1. Surveillance of antibiotic susceptibility of Neisseria gonorrhoeae in the WHO western Pacific region 1992–4. WHO Western Pacific Region Gonococcal Antimicrobial Surveillance Programme. Genitourin Med 1997;73(5):355–361.
  2. Speers DJ, Fisk RE, Goire N, Mak DB. Non-culture Neisseria gonorrhoeae molecular penicillinase production surveillance demonstrates the long-term success of empirical dual therapy and informs gonorrhoea management guidelines in a highly endemic setting. J Antimicrob Chemother 2014;69(5):1243–1247.
  3. Goire N, Freeman K, Tapsall JW, Lambert SB, Nissen MD, Sloots TP, et al. Enhancing gonococcal antimicrobial resistance surveillance: a real-time PCR assay for detection of penicillinase-producing Neisseria gonorrhoeae by use of noncultured clinical samples. J Clin Microbiol 2011;49(2):513–518.
  4. Lahra MM. Australian Gonococcal Surveillance Programme, 2013. Commun Dis Intell 2015;39(1):E137–E145.
  5. Goire N, Lahra MM, Chen M, Donovan B, Fairley CK, Guy R, et al. Molecular approaches to enhance surveillance of gonococcal antimicrobial resistance. Nat Rev Microbiol 2014;12(3):223–229.
  6. Chen YM, Stevens K, Tideman R, Zaia A, Tomita T, Fairley CK, et al. Failure of 500 mg of ceftriaxone to eradicate pharyngeal gonorrhoea, Australia. J Antimicrob Chemother 2013;68(6):1445–1447.
  7. Read PJ, Limnios EA, McNulty A, Whiley D, Lahra MM. One confirmed and one suspected case of pharyngeal gonorrhoea treatment failure following 500 mg ceftriaxone in Sydney, Australia. Sex Health 2013;10(5):460–462.
  8. Australasian Sexual Health Association. The Australian Sexually Transmitted Infection Management Guidelines 2014. [Online]. Available from:

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