Last year, the number of new sexually transmitted infections increased by 5 percent, according to new data published by Public Health England (PHE).

In 2011, there were 428,255 diagnosed cases of sexually transmitted infections compared to 448,422 in 2012.

Health officials have issued a warning saying that the increased prevalence of STIs means that there are too many people who are still unaware of the risks involved with unsafe sex – in particular men who have sex with men (MSM).

The most commonly diagnosed STI was Chlamydia, representing almost half of all STI cases (206,912) followed by genital warts (73,893) and genital herpes (32,021).

Gonorrhea cases increased from 21,024 in 2011 to 25,525 in 2012, a 21% rise. The number of MSMs diagnosed with gonorrhea rose by 37%.

High gonorrhea transmission rates are becoming a major global concern as the threat of antibiotic resistance grows. A leading sexual health expert from the U.K. said that increasingly drug-resistant strains of the sexually transmitted infection gonorrhea could develop into versions that cannot be killed by any known antibiotic.

One of the main public health priorities is to prevent treatment resistant strains of gonorrhea spreading, the Gonorrhea Resistance Action Plan for England and Wales was launched in 2013 to tackle the problem.

The highest STI rates were among young people under the age of 25, representing 64% of total chlamydia cases. The National Chlamydia Screening Programme recommends annual chlamydia testing to control the infection.

Of the 1.7 million chlamydia tests taken last year, there were 136,000 confirmed cases.

Dr Gwenda Hughes, PHE head of STI surveillance, said that screening has significantly improved over recent years – doctors are able to diagnose and treat more infections than ever before.

However, he added that:

“These data show too many people are continuing to have unsafe sex, put themselves at risk of STIs and the serious consequences associated with infection, including infertility. Ongoing investment in programmes to increase sexual health awareness, condom use and testing, particularly for groups at most risk, is vital.

We must also ensure chlamydia screening remains widely available. Local authorities should continue to integrate chlamydia screening into broader health services for young adults. This will also help this age group develop positive relationships with services, enabling them to develop and maintain good sexual health throughout their lives.”

Professor Kevin Fenton, PHE director of health and wellbeing, said:

“Public Health England welcomed the Department of Health’s ‘Framework for Sexual Health Improvement in England’ published earlier this year, setting out a range of ambitions. We are committed to improving the nation’s sexual health, with a focus on the groups most at risk, and will provide local authorities and clinical commissioning groups with data on local health needs, coupled with evidence-based advice onSTI prevention and sexual health promotion approaches, to improve risk awareness and encourage safer sexual behaviours.”

It is imperative that people regularly get screened for HIV and STIs to ensure early diagnosis and treatment. Reducing the number of sexual partners is an effective way of lowering one’s risk of contracting an STI.

Other ways of reducing the risk of STIs include:
  • Ensure that for each sexual act you use a new latex condom, whether it be oral, vaginal or anal sex.
  • Regularly test yourself, especially if you belong to a high risk group (people under 25 and MSM).
  • Abstain from sex – this is probably the most effective way to avoid becoming infected with an STI.
  • Take vaccinations which protect from developing some forms of cancer caused by two STIs – the HPV (human papillomavirus) and Hepatitis B vaccines.
  • Drink less alcohol, people who are drunk are at a higher risk of engaging in risky behavior.
How can I reduce my risk of getting a sexually transmitted disease?

Written by Joseph Nordqvist