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Home News centre National Press Releases 2011 Press Releases ›  STIs drop for first time in a decade while testing and chlamydia screening rise

STIs drop for first time in a decade while testing and chlamydia screening rise

15 June 2011

New figures released today by the Health Protection Agency (HPA) show for the first time in more than 10 years a small decrease in the total number of STIs diagnosed in England, most notably in young people. In 2010 there were 418,598 new STI diagnoses made in England, a decrease of one percent from the previous year when 424,782 cases were diagnosed.


This decrease occurred during a period of increased testing for sexually transmitted infections in health settings across England. For the first time new diagnoses of chlamydia did not rise but were stable and this occurred alongside more chlamydia testing through the National Chlamydia Screening Programme. Last year 2.2 million chlamydia tests were carried out in England among young people aged 15 to 24, an increase of 196,500 from the previous year.

Dr Gwenda Hughes, head of the HPA's STI section said: "Although the drop is modest this is the first time we've seen a decrease in STIs in over 10 years so it is an important milestone. For the first time ever we have seen chlamydia diagnoses stabilise when testing for that particular infection is at its highest ever, thanks to community based testing through the National Chlamydia Screening Programme. These are very early days but we hope that this is the beginning of a downward trend."

The latest overall figures for England show:

  • Chlamydia diagnoses have stabilised at 189,625 in 2009 and 189,612 in 2010
  • Genital warts diagnoses have decreased by 3 per cent from 77,900 in 2009 to 75,615 in 2010 
  • Syphilis diagnoses have decreased by 8 per cent from 2,846 in 2009 to 2,624 in 2010
  • Gonorrhoea diagnoses have increased by 3 per cent from 15,978 in 2009 to 16,531 in 2010
  • Genital herpes diagnoses have increased by 8 per cent from 27,564 in 2009 to 29,703 in 2010
  • The number of tests in GUM clinics to detect STIs increased by 1 per cent from 1,166,712 in 2009 to 1,180,368 in 2010
  • The number of chlamydia tests in 15-24 years olds in community and GUM clinic settings increased by 10 per cent from 2,018,670 in 2009/10 to 2,215,204 in 2010/11

The two most at risk groups remain young people and men who have sex with men. 

Young people under 25 are the age group that experience the highest rates of STIs overall. Among women in 2010, rates of diagnosis of chlamydia, genital warts and gonorrhoea peaked in those aged 19 and genital herpes peaked in 20 year olds. In men rates of chlamydia and genital warts peaked in those aged 21, while those of gonorrhoea and genital herpes peaked in those aged 22 and 23. However, there has been a notable decline in some STIs in younger adults in recent years: Between 2008 and 2010, diagnoses of genital warts in women and men aged 15-19 fell by 13 per cent and eight per cent (11,669 to 10,101 and 4,695 to 4,306) while those of gonorrhoea fell by 13 per cent and 14 per cent (2,004 to 1,749 and 1,283 to 1,108).

Dr Hughes continued, "It is particularly encouraging to see a decline in some STIs among young people, however, these latest figures show that the impact of STI diagnoses is still unacceptably high in this group. Studies suggest that those who become infected may be more likely to have unsafe sex or lack the skills and confidence to negotiate safer sex.

"These encouraging decreases do not however mean we can rest on our laurels. Prevention efforts, such as greater STI screening coverage and easier access to sexual health services, should be sustained and continue to focus on groups at highest risk. To reduce the risk of STIs, the HPA recommends using a condom when having sex with a new partner and continuing to do so until you both have been screened.

"The HPA also recommends that sexually active under 25 year olds should be tested for chlamydia every year or sooner if they change their partner. Today's figures suggest that the drive to encourage regular testing for STIs may be having an impact on STI rates but it's too soon to know if this is definitely the case. In any case, the sooner people are diagnosed and treated, the less likely they are to pass on the infection or to develop complications later."

For cases in men where sexual orientation was recorded, 64 per cent (1,070/1,671) of syphilis and 40 per cent (4,503/11,289) of gonorrhoea diagnoses in England last year were among men who have sex with men (MSM) and the number of diagnoses of STIs continues to rise in this group. Gonorrhoea diagnoses in MSM increased by a third in the past year (3,379 to 4,503 diagnoses), chlamydia by 22 per cent from 4,084 in 2009 to 4,975 in 2010, and genital herpes by 19 per cent from 818 in 2009 to 973 in 2010.

Dr Hughes added, "The message of consistent condom use is even more important for men who have sex with men because they are at particular risk of HIV as well as other STIs. This underlines the importance of regular sexual health screening for this group. The HPA currently recommends that men who have sex with men should be tested for HIV at least annually."

Justin McCracken, chief executive of the HPA, said: "Although it is encouraging to see this small decrease, the total number of STIs remains very high and it is important to remember that all these sexually transmitted infections are preventable. Continuous reinforcement of the safe sex message is vital if we are to see a more significant decrease in the future."

ENDS

Notes to editors: 

  1. The full data sets and commentary are available from the HPA: www.hpa.org.uk 
  2. For HPA's detailed sexual health prevention messages, visit: http://www.hpa.org.uk/Topics/InfectiousDiseases/InfectionsAZ/HIVAndSTIs
    /PreventionGroups/
     
  3. The National Chlamydia Screening Programme is a control and prevention programme targeted at the highest risk group for chlamydia infection in England, young people under 25 who are sexually active. Since November 2005 National Co-ordination of the programme has been the responsibility of the Health Protection Agency. To find out more visit: www.chlamydiascreening.nhs.uk  
  4. The Health Protection Agency is an independent UK organisation that was set up by the government in 2003 to protect the public from threats to their health from infectious diseases and environmental hazards.  It does this by providing advice and information to the general public, to health professionals such as doctors and nurses, and to national and local government. In 2012 the HPA will become part of Public Health England. To find out more, visit our website: www.hpa.org.uk
  5. For media enquiries please contact the national HPA press office at Colindale on 020 8327 7901 or email colindale-pressoffice@hpa.org.uk. Out of hours the duty press officer can be contacted on 020 8200 4400.

Last reviewed: 14 June 2011