Despite success stories such as the HPV vaccine and HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) which is taken by HIV negative people before and after sex to reduce the risk of getting HIV, STIs are on the rise.
Two leading sexual health charities, the Terrence Higgins Trust and the British Association for Sexual Health & HIV have released a report detailing a shocking rise in cases of STIs across England. The report also criticises the government for cutting funding in sexual health services by up to a quarter since 2014.
STIs in England the facts
This State of the Nation report has found that:
- 447,694 STI cases diagnosed in England in 2018 alone
- STI diagnosis on average every 70 seconds
- 5% year on year increase in diagnosed cases
- Syphilis at the highest rate since World War II
- Decrease in the cases of genital warts and HPV, thanks to the impact of the HPV vaccine
Which STIs are on the rise?
While there are some instances of sexual health advice and treatment working to reduce rates of infection, which we will talk about later on in this piece, for the most past STIs are on the rise.
In the last 10 years cases of syphilis have increased by 165% and cases of gonorrhoea up by 265%. This increase has not been helped by the advent of 3 cases of extensively drug resistant gonorrhoea, or the so called ‘super gonorrhoea’.
Cases of chlamydia increased by 6% in 2018 alone and cases of herpes are on the up. Healthcare providers are also facing new challenges with emerging and less common STIs such as mycoplasma genitalium (Mgen), shigella and trichomoniasis .
Why are STIs on the rise?
Back in 2017, Dr Olwen Willims of the BASHH, highlighted the funding cuts have meant that ‘many services are struggling to cope, despite valiant efforts from staff.’ This more recent report identifies ‘under-funded and over-burdened’ sexual health services as the main reason for the increasing prevalence of STIs across England. There is also criticism for a lack of national strategy for sexual health, with the last set of government framework being released in 2013.
Condomless sex, use of dating apps, chemsex, increased number of sexual partners are also suggested as reasons for potential rise in cases of STIs, however there appears to be little research done in this area.
Who is most at risk from STIs?
According to the report young people, gay and bisexual men, individuals from some ethnic minority populations and people living with HIV. Young people in fact accounted for 48% of new STI diagnoses and 75% of all syphilis diagnoses were amongst gay men.
However it is important to remember that anyone can be at risk of catching an STI. You don’t need to have lots of sexual partners. If you change your sexual partner it is advisable to get a sexual health test.
How can I protect myself from STIs?
Using a condom is the best way to avoid catching an STI. Talking to your partner about STIs, sexual health and contraception and getting tested along with your partner are also advisable. If you’ve had a lot to drink or used recreational drugs, you are more likely to make decisions that put you at risk of having unsafe sex. And therefore could also help lower the chances of catching an STI.
You can get vaccinated against HPV, an STI which causes genital warts and has been linked to cervical cancer. Hepatitis B vaccinations are also available. Both these vaccinations are available to certain people through the NHS, however you can also access them on LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor.
Self-test kits and STI treatments
You can access STI tests and treatment services through the NHS, services vary depending on where you live.
If you prefer not to see a doctor face to face, through LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor you can purchase a selection STI tests and a variety of STI treatments for herpes, warts and chlamydia. Simply request the STI test or treatment and complete the questionnaire. Kits and treatment can either be collected in store or delivered to an address convenient to you.
Success stories – STIs that are decreasing
It’s not all doom and gloom, there are some instances that prove sexual health can work. The report highlights that HIV prevention tools have led to a 28% drop in cases since 2015. Cases of HPV have also dropped, thanks to the HPV programme being available to girls aged 25 and under, boys in year 8 and men who have sex with other men.