Increase in Northern Ireland sex infections prompts health agency’s plea
There has been an increase in the number of new sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in Northern Ireland.
In particular, there has been significant growth in the diagnoses of gonorrhoea, the highest recorded number in the country to date, and infectious syphilis, while new diagnoses of genital warts decreased.
The figures were released by the Public Health Agency (PHA) using information from genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics.
The 'Sexually Transmitted Infection surveillance in Northern Ireland 2019: An analysis of data for the calendar year 2018' report shows that new diagnoses of chlamydia increased by 6% - 1,787 diagnoses in 2018 compared with 1,684 in 2017.
New diagnoses of gonorrhoea rose by 30%, a jump from 679 in 2017 to 882 in 2018, while genital herpes increased by 8% - 501 in 2018, an increase of 38 cases.
Finally, new diagnoses of syphilis rose by 72% - 86 cases in 2018 compared to 50 in 2017.
Meanwhile, there was a drop of 10% in new diagnoses of genital warts - 1,436 in 2018 compared with 1,600 in 2017.
The decline in diagnostic rates from 2011 has been greatest in females aged 16 to 19 years (71%) and in males in the same age group (49%).
Of the 882 new episodes of gonorrhoea, 80% of cases were diagnosed in males, with a high proportion of those in men who have sex with men (MSM).
Dr Claire Neill, specialist registrar with the PHA, described the upward trend in gonorrhoea as "particularly concerning" and said there has been in an increase in antibiotic resistance.
"There is a real risk that antibiotic options will become less effective in the future, so it's really important that we take steps to protect ourselves from becoming infected in the first place and reduce the potential for spreading gonorrhoea by wearing condoms," she said.
"While the majority of the increase in gonorrhoea and infectious syphilis was seen in MSM, this may be due at least in part to significantly increased STI testing levels among MSM during 2018.
"We're also seeing smaller upward trends among heterosexuals so it is important that everyone takes the necessary steps to help protect themselves."
Dr Neill added that regular screening and support is available in GUM clinics.