SEX ED: Nurse Practitioner Donna Pini, of the Mackay Sexual Assault and Sexual Health Service.
SEX ED: Nurse Practitioner Donna Pini, of the Mackay Sexual Assault and Sexual Health Service. Tara Cassidy

HEALTH CRISIS: Gonorrhoea cases soaring in Mackay region

GONORRHOEA cases in the region have doubled in 12 months and, more alarmingly, figures for the first two months of 2017 are almost four times those of a year ago.

Mackay Hospital and Health Services recorded 22 confirmed cases of gonorrhoea between January 1 and March 5, 2017, compared to six confirmed cases in the same timeframe last year.

Nurse practitioner Donna Pini said the increase was significant and being found in unsuspected demographics outside of the standard risk groups.

"Annually we used to have around 30 to 35 cases and we started to suspect a problem in June last year," Ms Pini said. "From 2015-2016 our cases doubled, with up to 70 cases per year and we were seeing gonorrhoea in groups of the population that we wouldn't have normally checked in the past."

The traditional risk groups, according to Ms Pini, are men who have sex with men, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, people who have sex in overseas countries or who have unprotected sex with an overseas born person in Australia.

"We are trained to discuss with clients in consultations if they have traditional risk factors and, only if they do, would we normally offer testing," she said.

"But now we are getting a lot more cases in Australian caucasian, heterosexual women and men and often they are utilising recreational drug use.

"Such use can result in chaotic behaviours and increased sexual risk taking, much the same as in alcohol abuse."

Ms Pini said not all people who carried the disease would show symptoms and therefore it was critical all sexually active people got regular health checks.

"The symptoms can be silent and sneaky, clients may have none at all," she said.

"If they do it could range from burning and stinging when passing urine, lower abdominal pain, abnormal menstrual cycles or any abnormal genital symptoms at all.

"If it is left untreated or undiagnosed it can result in severe irreversible complications which lead to things like chronic pelvic inflammatory disease or infertility for both men and women."

According to Ms Pini, people who are sexually active between the ages of 15-40 should have annual health checks.

"Men having sex with men and bisexuals who have unprotected sex should be having sexual health checks every three months."