Too many people are putting themselves at risk by having unsafe sex, health experts have warned, as figures were released showing a “disappointing” rise in the number of new cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) said diagnoses of STIs in England rose by 2% from 419,773 new cases in 2010 to 426,867 last year.
The steepest rise was in gonorrhoea which leapt 25% from 16,835 cases to 20,965, followed by syphilis, which rose by 10% from 2,650 to 2,915 cases. New cases of genital herpes rose by 5% from 29,794 to 31,154.
The agency said there was a “significant rise” in the number of new diagnoses of STIs among gay men. There was also a high rate of STIs amongst young heterosexual adults aged between 15 and 24 years old.
It warned that the rise in gonorrhoea cases was of concern as there was emerging resistance to gonorrhoea treatment presenting the “very real danger” of untreatable cases in the future.
Dr Gwenda Hughes, head of the HPA sexually transmitted infections surveillance section, said there had been a steady increase over the past decade of the number of new diagnoses of STIs, apart from last year when there was a small decline.
“The reasons for this are numerous. There has been a lot more testing of STIs, there have been a lot more people going to clinics and getting an STI test, we have also been using much more sensitive testing - we are picking up more infections,” she said.
“But we do think that there is quite a lot of evidence of on-going unsafe sexual behaviour as well. We think that it is a combination of all these things that is responsible for the increase.”
She added: “Gonorrhoea is an infection that has become increasingly difficult to treat.
“We have seen emerging resistance to the current frontline antibiotics that are used.
“At the moment if you want to be treated for gonorrhoea you will get an injection, it won’t be a tablet.
“We are worried that in the next five years, or some point in the future, that this is going to be a very difficult infection to treat.”
A 4% fall in the number of cases of chlamydia in young adults, which often has no symptoms and can result in infertility was due to a “worrying trend” where fewer younger adults were being screened, the agency added.
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.”