Officials at the Health Protection Agency have expressed concern that the number of new sexually transmitted infections treated at genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics in the UK continues to rise.

The increase was most marked in gay men and younger people. Sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust has called for better sex education in schools to try to reverse the trend.

Dr Gwenda Hughes, Head of the STI Section at the Agency said:

“We have seen a continued and substantial increase in infections amongst gay men.

“This is of concern because by engaging in unsafe sex these men are also placing themselves at risk of HIV infection.”

The HPA said that the rise in diagnosis of STIs is partially due to more people coming forward for testing as they are more aware of these infections.

During 2006, nearly one million people were screened for an STI at a GUM clinic and the number of people having an HIV test has been increasing each year.

STI diagnoses in GUM clinics in the UK rose by 2% from 368,341 in 2005 to 376,508 in 2006. There was a 9% rise in the number of cases of genital herpes.

“It is important to remember that herpes infections are carried for life, and although the symptoms are treatable many people will continue to suffer from recurrences,” commented Professor Pat Troop of the HFA.

Lisa Power, head of policy at Terrence Higgins Trust, told PinkNews.co.uk:

“Many STIs show continued increases, particularly amongst young people and gay men. We have to reverse this trend.

“Quality sex and relationships education – not just biology lessons – has been shown to decrease risky behaviour in teens.

“We also need to stop the decline in health promotion work for gay men at a local level.

“There are also startling rises in the levels of genital herpes, particularly amongst young women.

“We need to get the message across that this is a lifelong and unpleasant condition which will require ongoing treatment, and not something to be taken lightly.”

Dr Hughes said that the HPA is most concerned about young adults and gay men.

“It’s crucial that we reach these groups with messages about safe sex, including condom wearing, and the importance of getting tested if they feel they’ve put themselves at risk of contracting an STI.”