Saturday, July 21, 2007

Further rise in sex disease figures

David Batty
Friday July 20, 2007
Guardian Unlimited

Rates of sexually transmitted infections across the UK have risen for the 10th year running, according to research published today.

There were nearly 10,000 more new cases of sexual infections diagnosed last year than in 2005, bringing the annual total to 376,508, according to the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

The agency's report on the nation's sexual health also shows a dramatic rise in the number of new diagnoses over the past decade. Last year there were 145,323 more cases diagnosed than in 1997.

Infection rates for three of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) rose again last year. The number of new cases of chlamydia rose by 4% to 113,585; genital herpes cases rose by 9% to 21,698; while genital warts rose by 3% to 83,745. But the number of gonorrhea cases dropped by 1% from the previous year to 19,007.

Professor Pat Troop, chief executive of the HPA, said: "The worrying picture is that of increasing levels of viral STIs like herpes and warts and in particular in young adults. Between 2005 and 2006 new diagnoses of genital herpes increased by 9% and genital warts by 3%. It is important to remember that herpes infections are carried for life, and although the symptoms are treatable many people will continue to suffer from recurrences."

The HPA, the government's national infection control body, put the rise in infections down to young heterosexual adults and gay men failing to practise safe sex.

Dr Gwenda Hughes, head of the agency's sexual health department, said: "The groups who we are most concerned about are young adults and gay men and it's crucial that we reach these groups with messages about safe sex, including condom wearing, and the importance of getting tested if they feel they've put themselves at risk of contracting an STI.

"We have seen a continued and substantial increase in infections amongst gay men. This is of concern because by engaging in unsafe sex these men are also placing themselves at risk of HIV infection."

Teenagers made up 40% of females infected with gonorrhea, while gay and bisexual men accounted for a third of new cases in men, as well as nearly 60% of male syphilis diagnoses.

The figures showed a drop in the number of people in the UK diagnosed with HIV - 6,642 last year, compared with a record of 7,642 in 2005.

Research published earlier this week showed that avoidable delays in treating people with STIs were exacerbating their spread. A study of more than 3,000 patients attending four clinics in England found they typically waited a week with symptoms before receiving treatment.

During that time 44.8% of men and 58% of women continued to have sex, 7% of them had sex with more than one partner, and 4.2% had unprotected sex with a new partner.

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