Sexually transmitted infection epidemic worries health experts

Researchers at the University of New South Wales (NSW) revealed that new cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia are on the rise in Australia, particularly among young members of indigenous communities.

Gonorrhea cases went up 25 per cent compared to 2010 while for the same period chlamydia rose 17 per cent say the researchers. New Chlamydia cases reached 74,305 in 2010, while gonorrhea peaked at more than 10,000. The numbers were based on HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted infections report released Tuesday by the University of NSW's Kirby Institute.

Kirby Institute Associate Professor David Wilson partly attributed the rise in new cases to more people undergoing tests as response to public education programs. “However, what we are seeing right now is the rate of diagnosis is surpassing the rate of testing so that indicates there's an increase in overall infection levels.... So there's an epidemic,” Mr Wilson said.

Although it could be treated with antibiotics, chlamydia and gonorrhea are difficult to diagnose because of lack of symptoms on infected people. It is acquired by having unprotected sex with an infected partner. However, if the infections are not treated, it could lead to pelvic inflammatory diseases in women which lead to infertility. Wilson blamed the rise to males failing to practice safe sex through the use of condoms.

Chlamydia victims were mostly young heterosexuals, while gonorrhea was more common among men who have sex with men. Eighty per cent of the new cases for both diseases were among young people in the age ranges 15 to 29, particularly among aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. Young people aged 15 to 29 accounted for 80 per cent of the total cases of chlamydia diagnosed during the year. The increase in cases among women was almost quadruple the rise seen in 2009, while men showed a more than threefold increase.

Meanwhile, HIV and viral hepatitis remained at fairly stable levels in 2010. The number of new HIV diagnoses was 1043, pushing the total number of cases recorded in Australia above 30,000 for the first time.

Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations executive director Rob Lake said while Australia had done well to contain the number of new HIV cases to about 1000 a year, it was time to “move beyond this plateau and decrease infection rates”. He said Australia had committed to a United Nations goal of halving new HIV infection rates before 2015 and one of the best ways of achieving that would be by introducing rapid HIV testing. “Overseas experience has shown that when rapid (an initial result within an hour) HIV testing is offered, testing rates increase, and many people who have never previously tested present for testing,” Mr Lake said.

Mr Lake said this would help encourage young sexually active gay men to undergo regular testing. “Our whole point is to make it easier and to help people make a good routine,” he said. The researchers also sought new initiatives on the part of the federal government to encourage Australians to undergo regular screening.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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