The STI Clinic News > UK STI Rates: Some Positive News
# Thursday, November 16, 2017
Posted: Thursday, November 16, 2017 | Categories: General Sexual Health

UK STI Rates: Some Positive News

In recent years, the UK headlines have been hit with news of gonorrhoea strains that cannot be treated with antibiotics, rising rates of STIs, and the return of sexually transmitted diseases we assumed were long dead. Confronted with this, it would be easy to feel like Britain’s sexual health is a lost cause. According to clinical pharmacist Laura Waters, however, it’s not all doom and gloom.

In a recent opinion piece, Waters put these alarming headlines into context, explaining that high STI rates and increasing diagnoses are not necessarily an indication that our sexual health practices are becoming worse. The first point made by Waters is that total STI cases in 2016 actually decreased by 4% from the previous year. Within specific groups, we also saw falling rates of first-episode genital warts (down 8%) and gonorrhoea (down 12%).

In perhaps the best news, diagnoses of HIV amongst men who have sex with men (MSM) fell by 23% between 2015 and 2016; this group also saw a significant decline in gonorrhoea diagnoses. The clinics which reported the sharpest decline in HIV diagnoses were also the ones in which testing for HIV had seen an increase. As Waters explains, HIV-negative MSM are likely to be driving this increase in testing, and increased screening seems to be having the doubly beneficial effect of catching gonorrhoea in its early stages and facilitating swift treatment.

While some STI rates have stayed relatively stable or even declined in recent years, it is true that we have seen a sudden increase in syphilis for MSM. Some have speculated that this is related to improved HIV treatment and campaigns such as "Can’t Pass It On" which publicise the fact that HIV-positive men receiving proper treatment have an undetectable viral load and cannot pass the virus on during sex. Though breaking down the stigma around HIV is crucial, it’s believed that these campaigns could have the effect of reducing condom use in MSM, thus making them vulnerable to other STIs such as syphilis.

Perhaps the most dispiriting revelation in Waters’ article is that there is a significant public funding gap when it comes to sexual health issues. In 2012, the Health and Social Care Act was introduced; this means that sexual health is now commissioned by local authorities and not the NHS. With huge reductions in public health spending, sexual health services have been seriously impacted.

And yet, there is still cause to stay hopeful. The roll-out of the HPV vaccination to schoolgirls has led to a significant drop in genital warts for this age group. Currently, the NHS and Public Health England are trialling HPV vaccinations for MSM under 45, which will hopefully lead to a decline in cases of genital warts for this category as well.

Moving forward, the best thing to do is push education around sexual health issues, for people of all ages. Second to that, regular testing should be encouraged amongst the most at-risk groups: MSM, the under-25s, and those of black African descent.

Safe Sex & STI Testing

One of the key STI facts that should be circulated is that sexually transmitted infections aren’t solely transmitted through penetrative sex. They can be passed on during oral sex, when sharing sex toys, and even simply by having skin-to-skin contact.

To stay safe, you should always use condoms and dental dams for oral sex with someone whose STI status is unclear. You should always wash sex toys between uses or cover them with a fresh condom. You should also refrain from sexual contact if you spot any STI symptoms.

STI symptoms can include:

  • pain when urinating
  • unusual discharge from the penis or vagina
  • in men, pain in the testicles
  • in women, pain in the pelvis or abdomen
  • in women, irregular bleeding (e.g. after sex or between periods)
  • fleshy growths around the genitals or anus
  • painful blisters around the genitals or anus
  • a painless blister on the genitals or mouth

To get tested for STIs, visit an NHS centre such as a sexual health clinic, or order home test kits from The STI Clinic. Click here to learn about our Quad Blood Test, which screens for HIV, syphilis, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.


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