The latest figures released by the Public Health Agency (PHA) in Northern Ireland show a 13% overall decrease in new diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections. However, within that there was a small increase in new diagnoses of gonorrhoea and infectious syphilis during 2015.
The ‘Sexually Transmitted Infection surveillance in Northern Ireland 2016: An analysis of data for the calendar year 2015’ report shows that in Northern Ireland Genito-Urinary Medicine (GUM) clinics in 2015:
- • 5,477 new STI diagnoses were made, a decrease of 13% compared with 2014 (6,292);
- • New diagnoses of chlamydia decreased by 18%: 1,534 diagnoses in 2015 compared with 1,868 in 2014;
- • New diagnoses of gonorrhoea increased by 3%: 619 in 2015 compared with 601 in 2014;
- • New diagnoses of genital herpes simplex (first episode) decreased by 8%: 381 in 2015 compared with 415 in 2014;
- • New diagnoses of genital warts (first episode) decreased by 14%: 1,746 in 2015 compared with 2,020 in 2014;
- • New diagnoses of infectious syphilis increased by 17%: 76 in 2015 compared with 65 in 2014;
Dr Gillian Armstrong, Specialist Registrar with the PHA, said: “Although 2015 saw a small decrease in annual numbers of new STI diagnoses made in Northern Ireland GUM clinics, this masks an increase in diagnoses of gonorrhoea and infectious syphilis.
“Between 2010 and 2015, diagnoses of gonorrhoea have tripled. This has largely been driven by an increase in diagnoses in men who have sex with men (MSM) and in women. In 2015 there was a further increase, albeit to a much smaller degree (3%). Although the rise in diagnoses coincides with the introduction of more sensitive testing, the continued increase is also likely to represent increased transmission.”
The report shows that the highest diagnostic rates of the common STIs occur in 16-24 year old females and 20-34 year old males. People aged 16-34 years old account for 82% of new STIs, even though they only account for 25% of the population.
MSM are at a generally higher risk of contracting some STIs, accounting for 75% of male syphilis, 64% of male gonorrhoea, 14% of male herpes and 14% of male chlamydia infections.
“By having unprotected sex, you could effectively be sleeping with everyone your partner’s ever slept with, putting yourself at risk of getting a STI.
“People with STIs don’t always have symptoms, so anyone having unprotected sex could be putting their health at risk. We are also encouraging people to always use a condom, and to get tested if they have put themselves at risk. There are GUM clinics across Northern Ireland. Staff are non-judgmental and welcome everyone who takes responsibility for their sexual health by getting checked out,” said Dr Armstrong.