Some Australian women are being diagnosed and treated for gonorrhoea they don't have

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The overuse of one type of test for gonorrhoea is resulting in false positive results and is probably leading to unnecessary treatment, according to a study in the Medical Journal of Australia.

Researchers have found that although the number of positive results for gonorrhoea in Victorian women in the nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) tripled between 2008 and 2013 the prevalence of cases confirmed did not change.

“There was no observable increase in the proportion of women diagnosed with gonorrhoea,” the researchers from the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre (MSHC), Monash University, Royal
Women’s Hospital Melbourne and University of Melbourne write.

The data suggest that the rise in notifications is likely due to false-positive results from the increased use of the test with potential for unnecessary treatment of patients and partners.

In a linked medical journal editorial, Dr Katy Bell and coauthors from Bond University and University of Sydney say that screening for gonorrhoea in women who are at low risk has become increasingly common because of dual testing for chlamydia and gonorrhoea.

They argue that misdiagnosis via the test is causing unnecessary physical and psychological harm in patients.

“The psychological consequences of false-positive test results are substantial,” they write

“They include anxiety and depression, feelings of guilt and self-blame, loss of self-esteem and self-confidence, feelings of social isolation, and existential concerns.

“(It) can also affect long-term sexual relationships, leading to concerns about trust and fidelity, and fear about disclosing results to a partner.”

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