Drop in sexually transmitted diseases in England

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For the first time in over a decade there has been a drop in the number of new sexually transmitted infections in England, figures show.

The Health Protection Agency says although the reduction is small - only 1% down from the 424,782 cases diagnosed in 2009 - it is significant and a step in the right direction.

It says increased screening for diseases like chlamydia has helped.

For the first time rates of this disease show no rise and remain stable.

There were 189,612 newly diagnosed cases of chlamydia last year.

At the same time, 2.2 million chlamydia tests were carried out in England among young people aged 15 to 24, an increase of 196,500 from the previous year.

Diagnoses of genital warts went down by 3% to 75,615 new diagnoses in 2010 and syphilis was down 8% to 2,624.

But other sex diseases continued to rise. Gonorrhoea went up by 3% from 15,978 diagnoses in 2009 to 16,531 in 2010. And genital herpes increased by 8% from 27,564 to 29,703.

STI trends

  • Chlamydia stabilised at 189,612 in 2010
  • Genital warts down 3% to 75,615 in 2010
  • Syphilis down 8% to 2,624 in 2010
  • Gonorrhoea up 3% to 16,531 in 2010
  • Genital herpes up 8% to 29,703 in 2010

Young people under the age of 25 remain the group experiencing the highest rates of STIs overall.

Dr Gwenda Hughes, head of the HPA's STI section, says the encouraging decreases "do not mean we can rest on our laurels".

"It is particularly encouraging to see a decline in some STIs among young people. However, these latest figures show that the impact of STI diagnoses is still unacceptably high in this group.

Condoms 'still safest'

"Studies suggest that those who become infected may be more likely to have unsafe sex or lack the skills and confidence to negotiate safer sex.

"Prevention efforts, such as greater STI screening coverage and easier access to sexual health services, should be sustained and continue to focus on groups at highest risk."

To reduce the risk of STIs, experts advise using a condom when having sex with a new partner and continuing to do so until both parties have been screened.

And sexually active under-25-year-olds should be tested for chlamydia every year, or sooner if they change their partner.

Tipping point

Commenting on the study, Terrence Higgins Trust's Chief Executive, Sir Nick Partridge, said: "The decreases in STIs that we saw in 2010 are small, but very significant.

"We're finally beginning to see a slowing down in the rates of infections, particularly among young people, showing that the time and money that has been put into sexual health, and in particular chlamydia screening, in recent years is starting to pay off.

"We are at a vital tipping point but, with the national sexual health strategy of the last ten years now expired, Government leadership and local investment are crucial.

"Over four hundred thousand people were treated for an STI in England last year. We need to provide accessible, targeted and community based sexual health services and prevention campaigns if we are to maintain the momentum in bringing these figures down."

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