STIs continue to rise in England

Author: Ingrid Torjesen
STIs continue to rise in England

Figures from Public Health England (PHE) show there were around 448,000 cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) diagnosed in 2018 - an increase of 5% from 2017.

The new report* by PHE shows numbers of new STI diagnoses rose from 424,724 in 2017 to 447, 694 in 2018.

Over the same period, the number of consultations at sexual health services, both in clinic settings and online, increased by 7% (from 3,337,677 to 3,561,548).

The biggest rise was seen in gonorrhoea for which diagnoses rose by 26% (from 44,812 in 2017 to 56,259 in 2018). Almost half of cases were diagnosed in men who have sex with men (MSM).

Cases of syphilis also increased and have more than doubled over the past decade (from 2,847 in 2009 to 7,541 in 2018). Three quarters of the cases in 2018 were in MSM.

Chlamydia remained the most commonly diagnosed STI, accounting for almost half of new STI diagnoses (218,095). Chlamydia most commonly affects 15 to 24-year-olds, who account for 60% (131,269) of new diagnoses - an increase of 2% since 2017.

The report highlights that the HPV vaccination programme has led to a marked decline in genital warts diagnosis. The rate of genital warts diagnoses among girls aged 15 to 17 years, most of whom would have been offered the quadrivalent HPV vaccine aged 12 to 13 years old, was 92% lower in 2018 compared to 2014. A decline of 82% was seen in same aged heterosexual boys over this time period, which suggests substantial herd protection.

Across all STIs, the highest rates of diagnoses continue to be seen in 15 to 24-year-olds, MSM, and black minority ethnic groups. This is likely due, in part, to higher rates of partner change and/or more concurrent sexual partnerships without consistent condom use. Among a minority of MSM, chemsex may facilitate these risk behaviours.

The rates of STIs are far lower in older age groups but are increasing, with the largest proportional increase in gonorrhoea and chlamydia seen in people over 65.

The rise in STIs is likely to be due to people not using condoms correctly and consistently with new and casual partners, and an increase in testing improving detection of the most common STIs, the report says.

Dr Gwenda Hughes, head of STI Surveillance at PHE, said: “No matter what age you are, or what type of relationship you are in, it’s important to look after your sexual health. If you have sex with a new or casual partner, make sure you use condoms and get regularly tested.”

*Sexually transmitted infections and screening for chlamydia in England, 2018. Public Health England, 4 June 2019.