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Sexually transmitted infections rise by 5%, show official figures

New diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) continued to climb in 2012 and were up 5% on the previous year’s total, Public Health England (PHE) has announced today.

Nearly half a million new STI diagnoses were recorded in England, with the number up from 428,255 in 2011 to 448,422 in 2012, the figures show.

While chlamydia was still the most commonly diagnosed STI, at 46% of cases, there was a big increase in new gonorrhoea cases last year, which rose by 21% overall (from 21,024  to 25,525) and by 37% among men who have sex with men (to 10,754).

There are concerns about the rise in gonorrhoea in particular, because of increasing emergence of antibiotic resistant strains of the bacteria. The PHE recently launched a ‘gonorrhoea resistance action plan’ to try to tackle the problem.

Cases of genital herpes were also high, up by 7% from 31,318 in 2011 to 32,201 cases in 2012.

PHE said the increase in diagnoses is partly down to ‘improved data collection’, but said the figures also show too many people are still practicing unsafe sex, especially young people and men who have sex with men.

The findings come after concerns over future funding of sexual health with the transfer of responsibility for services to local authorities, as well asfears that sexual health services will be destabilised by enforced competition in procurement of local public health services.

Dr Gwenda Hughes, PHE head of STI surveillance, said: ‘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 fertility.’

Dr Hughes added: ‘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.’

Professor Kevin Fenton, PHE director of health and wellbeing, said: ‘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 on STI prevention and sexual health promotion approaches, to improve risk awareness and encourage safer sexual behaviours.’