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New strains of STIs found in Kenyan border town

Researchers at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) have discovered two new strains of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among women in Busia County, a border county in Kenya.

The scientists were investigating the reason behind the rising STI cases recorded in two hospitals in the region when they discovered new mutations in genes associated with chlamydia and gonorrhoea.

The researchers used consecutive sampling and collected endocervical swabs from 424 Kenyan women aged 15 years and above with STI symptoms.

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They discovered that all the women tested positive for gonorrhoea and chlamydia.

Prof Samson Muuo, the assistant principal research scientist at the Center for Microbiology Research at Kemri, revealed that the two new mutations identified in MtrR and 23S rRNA genes were associated with macrolide resistance and were not from a common ancestral origin from the previously reported ones.

Macrolides are drugs used to manage and treat bacterial infections.

The researchers will analyze the sociodemographic characteristics of the sampled women, including the use of protection during sex, histories of using antibiotics, comorbidities, and previous similar infections.

Prof Muuo pointed out that co-infection is not new in diseases and that the phenomenon exhibited in the study is expected when one is exposed to different pathogens.

Also read: Dear Nairobians, here is how to avoid getting super gonorrhea


He further disclosed that the mutations of gonorrhoea and chlamydia they found were attacking as a pair, indicating that the STIs are prevalent in the region. The researchers noted that chlamydia trachomatis, Neisseria gonorrhoeae, and Mycoplasma genitalium are among the most commonly reported causes of urogenital tract infections in women.

Mutations in the 23S rRNA gene, the drug binding site, significantly cause resistance in C. trachomatis and M. genitalium. In N. gonorrhoeae, mutations in the mtrR gene can lead to macrolide resistance.

Ms Shillah Simiyu, a Kenyan epidemiologist who works at the World Health Organization African Region Office, explained that Busia presents high sexually transmitted disease numbers due to increased sexual activities by virtue of being a border town where truck drivers stop.

She joined Prof Muuo in advocating for a mixed-methods study that involves social, epidemiological, and laboratory science approaches to address the issue.

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Dr. George Njoroge, the founder of the Naivasha-based Centre of Africa’s Life Sciences, expressed a lot of concern over the two new mutations, stating that nobody knows whether the regular antibiotics would work and whether clinical trials would be necessary.

The discovery of new STI strains calls for increased vigilance among Kenyans to prevent the spread of the infections.

Experts advise the public to practice safe sex and seek medical attention if they experience STI symptoms.

The study is also a call to action for the government to invest more in research and health infrastructure to prevent the spread of infections and provide appropriate treatment.

The discovery of the new mutations and the prevalent STIs in Busia County is a warning sign for the whole country and the East African region, where STIs are prevalent.

Also read: Why oral sex could expose you to untreatable ‘super gonorrhea’