Figures released today by the Health Protection Agency show that the number of sexually transmitted infections (STI) diagnosed in the UK increased by three per cent between 2004 and 2005. However, in relation to gonorrhoea, new diagnoses fell by 13 per cent, a decrease for the second successive year.

The figures for the country as a whole (straight and LGBT) last year show that there were 790,387 diagnoses of STI and an overall increase of nine per cent to 1,839,241 visits to sexual health clinics. In particular, rates of Chlamydia rose by five per cent to 109,832 cases, Syphilis increased by 23% to 2,807 new cases. It is possible that some of the increase in diagnosis may be the result of the nine per cent increase in visits to sexual health clinics.

Will Nutland, Head of Health Promotion for the Terrance Higgins Trust told PinkNews.co.uk: “There are two or three factors that can be considered as contributing to the rise in STI diagnosis. Firstly, as shown by the nine per cent increase in visits to sexual health clinics, more people are having sexual health check-ups. Combined to this is the increased awareness of the symptoms and the effect of immigration from Eastern Europe on the incidences of Syphilis.

“Gay men with HIV are now tested for Syphilis as a matter of routine as they are in the at risk group for contracting the infection. This may also have an impact on the level of diagnoses.”

Mr Nutland added: “The figures are for the population as a whole rather than for specific sectors of the community. For that reason, whilst last year the UK as a whole saw a decrease in the level of Gonorrhoea, in actual fact amongst gay men, there was an increase in the level of infections.”

Professor Peter Borriello, Director of the Centre for Infections, said: “Today’s figures contain mixed news. The number of new cases of gonorrhoea fell by 13 per cent, from 22,350 in 2004 to 19,495 in 2005. This is particularly significant given the previous ten per cent fall in cases from 2003 to 2004, and with fewer cases reported across all English regions, it appears real progress is being made. However it is disappointing to see that there was a further rise in new diagnoses of STIs in 2005, and these figures show there is still much to be done to tackle the continuing spread of infection. We have seen increases over the past year in new diagnoses of chlamydia, syphilis, genital warts and genital herpes.”

Reacting to the figures, Nick Partridge Chief Executive of Terrence Higgins Trust said “Rates of Chlamydia and many other STIs are continuing to rise. The government has prioritised sexual health and there now needs to be action locally. Getting an appointment at a sexual health clinic must be quick and easy, treatment must be swift and we need to keep pushing home the safer sex message – it’s more important than ever.”

Professor Borriello added: “Today’s figures show that the upward trend in STIs has continued over the past year. Some of this increase may reflect the greater availability of testing which helps detect cases which would otherwise remain undiagnosed. But the overall trend of increasing numbers shows the full extent of the challenge facing healthcare professionals as they try to limit the spread of STIs.

“The Health Protection Agency’s surveillance helps us understand the scale of the problem. We support the Government’s commitment to improve the nation’s sexual health and at a local level will continue to work closely in partnership with clinicians and Primary Care Trusts on initiatives to tackle STIs.

“Today’s figures serve as a reminder for people to take responsibility for their own sexual health and that of their partners, and to use a condom with new and casual partners. Quick diagnosis is essential, so anyone who thinks they may have put themselves at risk of contracting an STI or has developed symptoms should seek advice from their GP or go to a GUM clinic as soon as possible.”