UK sexually transmitted infections on the rise

New figures released by the Health Protection Agency show that the number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other conditions diagnosed in genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics in the UK increased by 3% between 2004 and 2005.

However over the same period new cases of gonorrhoea fell by 13%, a substantial decrease for the second successive year.

Professor Peter Borriello, Director of the Centre for Infections, said:

"Today's figures contain mixed news. The number of new cases of gonorrhoea fell by 13%, from 22,350 in 2004 to 19,495 in 2005. This is particularly significant given the previous 10% fall in cases from 2003 to 2004, and with fewer cases reported across all English regions, it appears real progress is being made. However it is disappointing to see that there was a further rise in new diagnoses of STIs in 2005, and these figures show there is still much to be done to tackle the continuing spread of infection. We have seen increases over the past year in new diagnoses of chlamydia, syphilis, genital warts and genital herpes."

There was a significant increase in the number of new syphilis diagnoses, which rose by 23% from 2,278 in 2004 to 2,807 in 2005. However this was a smaller increase than in previous years – new cases rose by 39% from 2003 to 2004. New syphilis cases were particularly marked among women, where the increase was almost two and a half times higher than that among men.

Chlamydia remains the most commonly diagnosed STI, with 109,832 new cases in 2005, a 5% increase on the previous year. The highest rates of infection and highest increases in diagnoses were seen for both sexes in the 16 to 24 age group.

The number of new diagnoses for 2005 show:

  • An overall rise in the number of all diagnoses made in GUM clinics in the UK of 3% ( from 768,339 cases in 2004 to 790,387 in 2005).
  • An increase in the total workload seen in GUM clinics of 9% (from 1,690,597 in 2004 to 1,839,241 in 2005).
  • Chlamydia increased by 5% (from 104,840 in 2004 to 109,832 in 2005).
  • Syphilis increased by 23% (from 2,278 in 2004 to 2,807 in 2005).
  • Genital warts increased by 1% (from 80,082 in 2004 to 81,203 in 2005).
  • Genital herpes increased by 4% (from 19,074 in 2004 to 19,771 in 2005).
  • Gonorrhoea decreased by 13% (from 22,350 in 2004 to 19,495 in 2005).

Professor Borriello added:

"Today's figures show that the upward trend in STIs has continued over the past year. Some of this increase may reflect the greater availability of testing which helps detect cases which would otherwise remain undiagnosed. But the overall trend of increasing numbers shows the full extent of the challenge facing healthcare professionals as they try to limit the spread of STIs.

"The Health Protection Agency's surveillance helps us understand the scale of the problem. We support the Government's commitment to improve the nation's sexual health and at a local level will continue to work closely in partnership with clinicians and Primary Care Trusts on initiatives to tackle STIs.

"Today's figures serve as a reminder for people to take responsibility for their own sexual health and that of their partners, and to use a condom with new and casual partners. Quick diagnosis is essential, so anyone who thinks they may have put themselves at risk of contracting an STI or has developed symptoms should seek advice from their GP or go to a GUM clinic as soon as possible."

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