Sexually transmitted infections found in 13-year-olds as cases hit record high

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Cases of gonorrhoea in England have reached record highs while children as young as 13 have been diagnosed with the sexually transmitted infection, new figures show.

The number of cases of chlamydia and syphilis have also dramatically increased, with the number of diagnosed cases of infectious syphilis at the highest level since just after the Second World War.

New UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) figures show that overall there were 392,453 diagnoses of new STIs in England in 2022 – more than 1,000 every day and an increase of 23.8% compared with 2021.

(PA Graphics)

The new UKHSA figures show:

– Gonorrhoea diagnoses rose to to 82,592 in 2022, an increase of 50.3% compared with 2021 and the highest number of gonorrhoea diagnoses in any one year since records began in 1918.

– There were 50 cases of gonorrhoea diagnosed among 13 to 14-year olds.

– 537 over 65s were diagnosed with gonorrhoea in 2022 compared with 387 before the pandemic in 2019.

– Case rates in 2022 appeared to be highest in London for gonorrhoea. There were 383.4 cases of gonorrhoea diagnosed out of every 100,000 people in the capital compared with 68 per 100,000 in the Eastern England.

– Infectious syphilis diagnoses increased to 8,692 in 2022, the largest annual number since 1948.

– Chlamydia diagnoses increased by 24.3% from 160,279 diagnoses in 2021 to 199,233 in 2022.

– This includes 68,882 chlamydia diagnoses among people aged 15-24.

The UKHSA said people aged 15 to 24 are most likely to be diagnosed with STIs as it urged those who are having sex with new or causal partners to wear a condom and get tested regularly.

It said STIs are usually easily treated with antibiotics but many can cause serious health issues if left untreated.

(PA Graphics)

“We saw more gonorrhoea diagnoses in 2022 than ever before, with large rises, particularly in young people,” said Dr Hamish Mohammed, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA.

“STIs aren’t just an inconvenience – they can have a major impact on your health and that of any sexual partners.

“Condoms are the best defence but if you didn’t use one the last time you had sex with a new or casual partner, get tested to detect any potential infections early and prevent passing them on to others.

“Testing is important because you may not have any symptoms of an STI.”

In 2022, there were 2,195,909 diagnostic tests for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis or HIV – 13.4% more than 2021.

“If this were any other set of health conditions, there would be outcry and we’d see rapid action and much-needed funding.

“Testing rates remain lower than pre-Covid, but the number of STIs being diagnosed are exceeding the high levels reported before the pandemic.

“In 2022, more than 1,000 STIs were diagnosed on average every day.

“Two years of social distancing resulted in a small drop in transmission rates but numbers are surging again because sexual health services and public health budgets have been cut to the bone.

“Until sexual health is properly resourced, we won’t see the number of STIs heading in the right direction.”

He added: “Year after year, the same groups are most impacted by STIs, including young people, gay and bisexual men, people living with HIV and those of Black Caribbean ethnicity. But nothing is being done to properly understand the impact of structural inequalities on poor sexual health, including racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia.

“The Government urgently needs to set out what good looks like for sexual health. We’ve been waiting four years for Government’s sexual and reproductive health action plan and this latest data must come as a wake-up call to inspire action.”

David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “Local council-commissioned sexual health services are at risk of breaking point, with rising demand coming at the same time as real-terms cuts to funding.

“It is encouraging to see more people visiting their local sexual health clinic, which is a testament to the work of councils with hard-to-reach communities in their areas, as well as the new cutting-edge treatments on offer.

“However, this is becoming increasingly unsustainable without a long-term increase in councils’ public health grant, which goes towards funding vital sexual health services.

“The Government should ensure sexual and reproductive health funding is increased to levels which matches the increases local services have seen in demand. Investment in early intervention helps to save costs to the health service and prevents problems developing further down the line.”

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