This site is intended for health professionals only

STI risk highest in gay men and young adults

Between 2012 and 2013 the number of diagnosed sexually transmitted infections (STIs) has fallen by 2,522 cases, but cases in young adults and men who have sex with men continue to be high.

According to the Public Health England (PHE) data, the most common STI was chlamydia, accounting for 47% of cases, while gonorrhoea experienced a 15% rise increase to 29,291 diagnoses.

Consultant scientist in PHE's STI surveillance team, Dr Catherine Lowndes said the fall from 446,253 to 448,775 STIs could be due to more people being tested.

She said: “Sustained efforts to encourage people to regularly get checked for STIs means we are now finding and treating more infections, which is good news.

"Nevertheless these data show too many people are still getting STIs each year, especially young adults and gay men." 

Young heterosexuals (between the ages of 15 to 24) were the group with the highest rates of STIs, consisting of 63% of all chlamydia cases (56,034), 56% of gonorrhoea (8,122), 54% of genital warts (36,312), and 42% of genital herpes (12,450).

In homosexual men gonorrhoea increased to 26%, two times the national average and accounted for 63% of all cases, while 81% of all syphilis cases were gay men.

Dr Lowndes underlined the importance of how testing these high-risk individuals will benefit STI rates.

She said: “Local areas can look at embedding screening into a variety of settings to make it as easy as possible for this group to get tested. Offering a young adult a chlamydia test opens the door to conversations about other important aspects of good sexual health, such as contraception and condom use.”

Significant reduction in STI rates can occur through: 

- Use of condoms until both partners have been tested.

- Reducing number of sexual partners.

- Avoiding coinciding sexual partners.

- Regular testing.

People below the age of 25 years and sexually active should be tested each time they switch sexual partners, and a chlamydia screen should be completed every year.

Dr Lowndes said: “Chlamydia can have serious consequences, including infertility, if it's not treated. These data show we need to do more to encourage young adults to ask for testing every year when they attend health services.”

Individuals part-taking in unprotected sex with a new or casual partner should screen for HIV/STIs every three months.