STIs increase by 6 per cent , warns HPA

Young people in the UK need to have checks for chlamydia at least once a year, says the Health Protection Agency (HPA) after finding rates of STIs continue to increase.

It also called for young gay men to have annual sexual health screens with a HIV test.

The latest figures show that the number of newly diagnosed STIs increased by 6 per cent between 2006 and 2007, with almost 400,000 new cases detected last year.

Almost half of all new diagnoses were made in 16 to 24 year olds, with 65 per cent of cases of chlamydia and 55 per cent of all cases of genital warts found in this age group.

The rate of genital warts increased by 7 per cent between 2006 and 2007. The finding casts further doubt on the DoH decision to use a bivalent human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine rather than a quadrivalent vaccine that would protect against genital warts as well as cervical cancer.

Among young gay men, the number diagnosed with an STI has substantially increased over the last decade. HIV diagnoses have doubled to 281 between 1998 and 2007, with the number of cases of gonorrhea almost tripling to 1,001 over this period.

The higher rates of STI diagnoses may in part be due to more people attending for sexual health screens. More than a million sexual health screens were carried out last year — a 10 per cent increase on 2006 and a 61 per cent increase since 2003. Use of more sensitive diagnostic tests may also have contributed to the increased detection rates, said Dr Gwenda Hughes from the HPA.

Nevertheless, changes in sexual behaviour undoubtedly play a role, said the HPA, urging young people to have fewer sexual partners and overlapping relationships as well as attending screens annually or whenever they have a new partner.

But Professor Peter Borriello, director of the HPA Centre for Infections, said a call and recall method was not recommended in case young people became blasé about their sexual health between visits.

‘We're asking young people to take responsibility for their own health,' he added. ‘We really need people coming forward when they think they are at risk, but yes, in an ideal world, we would have both.'

rachel.liddle@haymarket.com

HPA report

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