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Amongst the findings, the HPA found a sharp increase in cases of gonorrhoea (up by 25% on 2010) and syphilis (up by 10%). However, these increases were considerably greater amongst gay and bisexual men, with a 62% increase in cases of gonorrhoea and a 28% increase in syphilis.
Dr Gwenda Hughes, head of STI surveillance at the HPA, said: “The 2011 data are a matter of concern regarding young heterosexuals and men who have sex with men. We anticipated some increase in diagnoses due to improvements in testing in recent years, but not on the scale seen here. These data show that too many people are putting themselves at risk of STIs and serious health problems by having unsafe sex.”
The HPA recommends that men who have unprotected sex with casual or new partners should have an HIV/STI screen at least annually, and every three months if changing partners regularly.
Matthew Hodson, Head of Programmes for gay men’s health charity GMFA responded to the results by saying, ““The shocking increases in diagnosed STIs amongst gay men and in particular the steep rise in cases of gonorrhoea and genital warts, make for alarming reading. Although part of this increase is due to larger numbers of men coming forward for testing, which is to be welcomed, there remains a concern that safer sex messages are simply not getting through.
“Let me be blunt: Sex has consequences. If you have sex with lots of men, you are much more likely to pick up an STI, including HIV. You can catch gonorrhoea from oral sex – at least 16% of gonorrhoea cases were detected in the throat, so wearing condoms for anal sex is not enough to keep you free from STIs. Having gonorrhoea will make you more vulnerable to HIV, if you have not been infected, and more likely to transmit HIV if you are HIV positive, even if you’re on treatment.”
His sentiments were echoed by Cary James, Head of Programmes at Terrence Higgins Trust. “These figures are a serious concern. More men are visiting sexual health clinics than ever before but while this can explain some of the increase in STI diagnoses, it’s not the whole story. At Terrence Higgins Trust, we are working with gay men up and down the country to find out what’s driving this increase. This will help us find the best way to bring the numbers of infections down… Our charity regularly monitors rates of STIs among gay and bisexual men, and reacts quickly with targeted campaigns. In the last six months, our work has specifically addressed the issues of drug resistant gonorrhoea, the outbreak in shigella infections, and the link between partner numbers and how often men should visit the clinic. Consistent condom use and regular trips to a sexual health clinic are the best way to ensure you’re keeping yourself and your partner free from infection.”