New diagnoses of STIs increased by four per cent from 678,709 in 2002 to 708,083

New cases of chlamydia rose by nine per cent from 82,558 to 89,818 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2003, according to latest figures released by the Health Protection Agency at the launch of its first annual report. It remains the most commonly diagnosed sexually transmitted infection (STI) in genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics.

Overall, new diagnoses of STIs in GUM clinics increased by four per cent from 678,709 in 2002 to 708,083 during 2003. However the picture is variable, with diagnoses of some infections such as chlamydia and syphilis increasing, and diagnoses of gonorrhoea and genital herpes declining.

Comparison of numbers of new diagnoses between 2002-2003 show:

  • Chlamydia increased by 9% (from 82,558 in 2002 to 89,818 in 2003)
  • Syphilis increased by 28% (from 1,232 in 2002 to 1,575 in 2003)
  • Gonorrhoea decreased by 3% (from 25,065 in 2002 to 24,309 in 2003)
  • Genital warts increased by 2% (from 69,569 in 2002 to 70,883 in 2003)
  • Genital herpes decreased by 2% (from 18,432 in 2002 to 17,990 in 2003)

There continue to be marked variations in STI diagnoses across the country, reflecting the impact of local outbreaks (for example syphilis in Manchester and London), as well as the distribution of high-risk groups for STIs. Early indications of reductions in gonorrhoea in some regions also highlight the importance and effectiveness of local STI prevention activities, which promote the importance of regular testing and safer sexual behaviour.

The continued rise in the numbers of cases diagnosed is also partly attributable to more people coming forward for testing due to greater awareness of STIs. This is important because early detection is vital and some infections, particularly chlamydia and gonorrhoea, can often have no symptoms, leaving people unaware that they are infected.

The data confirm that certain sections of the population, notably gay men and young people, remain the groups most affected.

Dr Angela Robinson, President of British Association of Sexual Health and HIV said. “Any reduction in the dramatic increases in the numbers of STI cases of the past 5 years is to be welcomed. The fall in gonorrhoea diagnoses in heterosexuals reflects the prompt action of GUM physicians in changing standard treatment in 2003 in the light of surveillance data from the HPA Gonococcal Antibiotic Resistance Surveillance Programme. This good collaboration between HPA and clinicians is important to control sexually transmitted infections.’

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