There’s never been more information available about sexually transmitted infections and their prevention, so the expectation would be that cases are dropping.
But worryingly, both the UK and the US have recorded a rise in national levels of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
In the UK, the total number of new STI diagnoses rose 40% between 2004 and 2013, from 319,602 to 446,253, according to Public Health England figures.
Chlamydia was the most prevalent STI with over 208,000 cases – nearly half of all incidences. But the biggest increase in diagnosis was for herpes, which has seen a growth of 93%.
The number of people contracting gonorrhoea has also soared – up 42% to almost 30,000 in 2013.
Just as alarming are figures from the US’ Center for Disease Control, which reveal there are around 110 million STIs among the men and women of America – with 20 million new cases being reported every year.
Half of the new infections occur in in the 15 to 24 age group. So what’s going on?
Reasons for growth
There are a number of opinions as to exactly why these numbers are growing.
Sexual health charity FPA claims that a lack of serious investment in campaigns around sexual health, perhaps through complacency, is responsible for fewer people using condoms.
Another charity, the Terrence Higgins Trust, also blames an apparent lack of education on the rise.
The trust also claims that gay and bisexual men are being ignored in current education.
The trust believes that there will continue to be a rise in infections in under-25s until there is a proper programme of sex and relationship education in all schools.
The Terrence Higgins Trust also warns that the emergence of drug-resistant strains of gonorrhoea is just one damaging consequence of such continually high rates of infection.
Public Health England suggests that the rise could partly be due to changes in the ways information is collected, but said that increased high-risk sexual activity (without a condom) is also one of the main factors.
How to protect yourself
There has always been a stigma and seeming reluctance to talk about STIs and get them checked out by a doctor.
But STIs are extremely common and, for the most part, easily treated and prevented if suitable care is taken.
Some tips on how to stop the spread of STIs:
- Cover up. Using a condom during sex, even with a long-term partner, is one of the best ways to prevent the transfer and spread of STIs. Some diseases have no symptoms so you might not know you have them.
- Reduce partners. The higher the number of sexual encounters you have with people (including oral sex), the bigger your chances of catching a STI are.
- Talk about it. Ask your partner if there’s a chance they might have become infected and see if you can both go along to a clinic to get checked out. This is particularly important if you have had a new partner in the past six months.
- Get tested. If you have had unprotected sex, or think you may have contracted a sexually transmitted infection (symptoms include pain when urinating, and penile or vaginal discharge), then it’s important to seek medical help and get yourself tested. If you find that you have an STI, stop having sex until you know you are clear.
- Treatment. If you are diagnosed with an STI, the next step is to seek treatment. One of the most commonly diagnosed STIs is chlamydia, which is often symptomless and is usually treated with a course of antibiotics. For warts, creams are prescribed and herpes is treated with antiviral medicine.
Whether you want to take an STI test or get treated for an infection you already know you have, LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor’s discreet service can help you. And if you’re just looking for more information, why not check out our Sexual Health Information page.