25 August 2010
Young women most at risk
New figures released today by the Health Protection Agency show that 15 to 24 year olds, particularly young women, continue to be the group most affected by sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the UK.
In 2009 a total of 482,696 new STI diagnoses were reported to the agency from sexual health clinics across the UK and community based chlamydia testing. This is almost 12,000 more cases than were reported in 2008 when there were 470,701 new diagnoses, continuing the steady upward trend we have seen over the past decade.
Last year around two thirds of new STI diagnoses in women were in those under 25. In women, 73% (3,955 out of 5,434) of all new gonorrhoea diagnoses and 66% (27,626 out of 42,095) of all new genital warts were in the under 25's. Of all women diagnosed with chlamydia 88% (112,334 out of 127,741) were under 25 – this is in part due to more sensitive tests and community based testing targeting the under 25's in England.
In men, over half of new STI diagnoses were in those aged under 25. They accounted for 41% (4,683 out of 11,541) of male gonorrhoea diagnoses, 47% (22,972 out of 49,105) of male genital warts, and 69% (58,170 out of 84,863) of male chlamydia diagnoses. High rates of STI diagnoses have also been found among men who have sex with men.
The peak age for an STI in women is between 19 and 20 years and in men, between 20 and 23 years. And of all the 15-24 year olds diagnosed with an STI last year around one in ten of these will become re-infected within a year.
Dr Gwenda Hughes, head of the HPA's STI section said:
"These latest figures show that poor sexual health is a serious problem among the UK's young adults and men who have sex with men.
"These figures also highlight the vulnerability of young women. Many studies have shown that young adults are more likely to have unsafe sex and often they lack the skills and confidence to negotiate safer sex.
"Re-infection is also a worrying issue - the numbers we're seeing in teenagers are of particular concern as this suggests teenagers are repeatedly putting their own, as well as others, long term health at risk from STIs."
The latest overall UK-wide figures show:
Dr Hughes continued "We are doing more testing, such as through the National Chlamydia Screening Programme, and some of the tests we are using for gonorrhoea and herpes are more sensitive, so as a result we are now picking up more infections. However, we know that the rise in STIs is also due in part to unsafe sexual behaviour. The safest way to protect yourself against an STI is to use a condom with new partners. Sexually active under 25 year olds should be tested for Chlamydia every year or when they change their partner".
For the first time the HPA can provide the new STI infection figures by local area of residence in England, rather than by clinic attended. This will help PCTs and local authorities achieve a greater understanding of the sexual health profile of their population which will help them develop local initiatives to target specific groups at high risk of infection.
This new surveillance system has shown where within cities STI rates are highest. Almost three quarters (14) of the PCTs featuring in the top 20 are London boroughs. Other PCTs in the top 20 are Brighton and Hove City, Nottingham City, Manchester, Blackpool, Heart of Birmingham, Southampton City and Liverpool.
Figures also released today suggest an emergence of potential resistance to drugs used to treat gonorrhoea. HPA scientists have seen an increase from 0.1% in 2005 to 10.6% in 2009 of bacteria which may be less likely to respond to treatment with cefixime - the main antibiotic used to treat this infection in the UK.
Professor Cathy Ison, a gonorrhoea expert at HPA's Centre for Infections, said:
"At the moment the drugs we use in the UK are still effective for treating gonorrhoea. But our lab tests show that the bacteria are becoming less sensitive to these drugs and the worry is that we could see gonorrhoea become a very difficult infection to treat within the next five years, as elsewhere in the world.
"Potentially this means that in the case of gonorrhoea practicing safe sex may eventually be the only way of controlling the infection if new antibiotic treatments cannot be found."
Justin McCracken, Chief Executive of the HPA said:
"These are all preventable infections and it is a cause of considerable concern that we are still seeing increases across the UK, especially in gonorrhoea where we know drug resistance is emerging.
"These annual HPA reports play a crucial role in enhancing current strategies to control and ultimately prevent STIs."
Notes to Editors:
1. For further information on the Agency's latest sexual health figures visit:
2. 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
3. For media enquiries please contact the Health Protection Agency's Centre for Infections press office on:
Georgina Fletcher 020 8327 6690
Eleanor Bunch 020 8327 7751
Louise Brown 020 8327 7080
Kathryn Swan 020 8327 7097
Emma Gilgunn-Jones 020 8327 6647
Alex Baker 020 8327 7098
Last reviewed: 31 August 2010