There has been a rise in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) reversing the small decline observed the previous year.
Figures released today by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) show new sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnoses rose by 2% in England in 2011, with nearly 427,000 new cases.
Young heterosexual adults (15-24 years) and men who have sex with men (MSM) remain the groups at highest risk.
The annual HPA report found the overall rise seen in 2011 was primarily driven by new diagnoses increasing in: gonorrhoea (up by 25%on 2010), syphilis (up by 10%) and genital herpes (up by 5%).
The largest upsurge in new diagnoses between 2010 and 2011 was seen in MSM with gonorrhoea increasing by 61%, chlamydia by 48% and syphilis by 28%.
Amongst heterosexuals overall rates remained highest in young adults (15-24 years old), accounting for 57% of all new gonorrhoea diagnoses, 56% of all new genital warts diagnoses and 43% of all new genital herpes diagnoses.
Dr Gwenda Hughes, head of STI surveillance at the HPA, said: “The 2011 data are a matter of concern regarding young heterosexuals and men who have sex with men. We anticipated some increase in diagnoses due to improvements in testing in recent years, but not on the scale seen here. These data show that too many people are putting themselves at risk of STIs and serious health problems by having unsafe sex.”
Dr Hughes called for improved awareness and encouraging safer sexual behaviour through health promotion and education, coupled with easy access to sexual health services and STI screening, with services focused on groups at highest risk.
“The importance of STI prevention and good sexual health becomes even clearer given emerging resistance to gonorrhoea treatment. Laboratory testing over the last five years has shown a large increase in the amount of resistance to the main drugs used to treat gonorrhoea, presenting the very real danger of untreatable gonorrhoea in the future,” she added.
The 2011 data did show a 4% drop in cases of chlamydia in young adults, from approximately 154,000 to 148,000 but the experts say this is due to falling numbers of younger adults being screened, and consequently fewer cases being ascertained.
Dr Angie Bone, director of the National Chlamydia Screening Programme, said: “This is a trend we need to reverse. Our aim is to encourage all sexually active under 25 year olds to get screened every year, or on change of partner, so a hidden infection can be found and treated.”