Sexually transmitted infections rise in England

New sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnoses have increased by two per cent in England in 2011, figures released by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) show.

Nearly 427,000 new cases were diagnosed last year, reversing the small decline observed the previous year.

Young heterosexual adults (15-24 years) and men who have sex with men (MSM) remain the groups at highest risk.
                                                                                              
The overall rise seen in 2011 was primarily driven by new diagnoses increasing in Gonorrhoea (up by 25 per cent on 2010); Syphilis (up by 10 per cent); and Genital herpes (up by five per cent).

The largest upsurge in new diagnoses between 2010 and 2011 was seen in MSM: Gonorrhoea increased by 61 per cent; Chlamydia by 48 per cent; and Syphilis by 28 per cent.

Amongst heterosexuals overall rates remained highest in young adults (15-24 years old), accounting for 57 per cent of all new gonorrhoea diagnoses; 56 per cent of all new genital warts diagnoses; and 43 per cent of all new genital herpes diagnoses.

Dr. Gwenda Hughes, head of STI surveillance at the HPA, said: “The 2011 data are a matter of concern regarding young heterosexuals and men who have sex with men. We anticipated some increase in diagnoses due to improvements in testing in recent years, but not on the scale seen here. These data show that too many people are putting themselves at risk of STIs and serious health problems by having unsafe sex.

“The rises in 2011 demonstrate it is crucial the work to reduce STIs continues. Improving awareness and encouraging safer sexual behaviour through health promotion and education is essential to helping prevent STIs. Coupled with this, ensuring easy access to sexual health services and STI screening is important for controlling the transmission of all STIs and needs to be focused on groups at highest risk.”

Dr. Hughes added: “The importance of STI prevention and good sexual health becomes even clearer given emerging resistance to gonorrhoea treatment. Laboratory testing over the last five years has shown a large increase in the amount of resistance to the main drugs used to treat gonorrhoea, presenting the very real danger of untreatable gonorrhoea in the future.”

To avoid putting yourself at risk of STIs and serious health problems, HPA encourages the use of a condom when having sex with casual and new partners.

HPA also recommends regular tests for those in the highest risk groups. Sexually active under 25 year olds should be screened for chlamydia every year, and on change of sexual partner, HPA recommends.

It also advises MSM having unprotected sex with casual or new partners to have an HIV/STI screen at least annually, and every three months if changing partners regularly.

Getting screened for HIV/STIs can lead to early identification and treatment, as often these infections have no symptoms. In addition, reducing the number of sexual partners and avoiding overlapping sexual relationships can reduce the risk of being infected with an STI.

Chlamydia, one of the most common STIs in young adults, often has no symptoms and can result in infertility. Although the 2011 data shows a four per cent drop in cases of chlamydia in young adults, from approximately 154,000 to 148,000, this is due to falling numbers of younger adults being screened, and consequently fewer cases being ascertained.

Dr. Angie Bone, director of the National Chlamydia Screening Programme, said: “This is a trend we need to reverse. Our aim is to encourage all sexually active under 25 year olds to get screened every year, or on change of partner, so a hidden infection can be found and treated. Testing is simple, painless and available on the NHS for this group, from GPs, pharmacies, family planning clinics and sexual health clinics.”