Why is the UK experiencing a surge in sexually transmitted infections?
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have reached a record high in the UK. New statistics show that syphilis diagnoses are at their highest in over 100 years and cases of gonorrhoea have increased by 50% compared to 2021.
The data shows that people between the ages of 15 and 24 are most commonly diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections. So why is the UK experiencing a surge in STIs, and what can we do about it?
What causes sexually transmitted infections?
Various types of bacteria, viruses, and parasites cause sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which transmit from one person to another during sexual contact. This includes penetrative vaginal and anal sex, and oral sex. In addition to sexual contact, individuals can pass on STIs by sharing sex toys, needles, and, in some cases, through skin-to-skin contact.
STI transmission occurs because people aren't having safe sex. You should use condoms every time you have sex with a new partner unless both of you have been tested.
To improve STI prevention, we must improve education. Young people are generally at a higher risk of getting STIs. This is due to the nature of their sex life - it can involve regularly changing sex partners, having unprotected sex, and misconceptions about effective forms of protection. A recent study revealed that a third of Gen Zers turn to social media platforms like TikTok for medical advice.
How often should I get tested for STIs?
Healthcare providers conducted nearly 2.2 million diagnostic tests for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, or HIV in 2022, indicating a 13.4% increase compared to the previous year. The increase in gonorrhoea and syphilis diagnoses may be partly due to increased testing, but we cannot overlook the significant surge in STI transmission.
If you are sexually active, you should get tested once every 6 months, or every time you have a new partner.
Testing is easy - you can order a home STI testing kit from iPlaySafe here. While sexually transmitted infections are common and most are easy to get rid of, they can have a long-term impact on your health and that of your sexual partners if left untreated.
What are the risk factors for sexually transmitted infections?
Undiagnosed sexually transmitted infections can cause long-term health problems. Gonorrhoea and chlamydia can cause infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), while syphilis can result in life-threatening issues affecting the brain, heart, or nerves.
HPV (human papillomavirus) can cause genital warts. High-risk types of HPV are the primary cause of cervical cancer. These types can cause changes in the cells of the cervix that, if left untreated, may progress to cervical cancer over time. Regular cervical screening (Pap smear tests) and the HPV vaccine can help in the early detection and prevention of cervical cancer.
HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a lifelong condition that weakens the immune system making patients more susceptible to opportunistic infections. If HIV is not effectively managed over time, it can progress to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). Order an HIV test here.
Herpes, caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), is another incurable STI. It can lead to various health risks including recurrent outbreaks and genital herpes.
What are the first signs of having an STI?
According to the NHS, about half of infected women and one in ten infected men do not experience any symptoms. Common symptoms, when present, include unusual discharge from the vagina or penis, pain during urination, and, in women, bleeding between periods.
On the other hand, symptoms of syphilis are often mild and easily overlooked. They tend to evolve over time and may appear and disappear intermittently. These symptoms may be small, usually painless sores on the genitals, mouth, or hands. They may also present as white or grey warty growths around the genitals. Rashes on the palms and soles of the feet can be common. Other symptoms include white patches in the mouth; flu-like symptoms; swollen glands; and patchy hair loss.
Testing is essential because you may not exhibit any symptoms of an infection. Early testing and detection enable you to receive effective treatment and prevent the spread of STIs to your sexual partner(s).
How can we prevent the transmission of sexually transmitted infections?
By practicing safe sex, undergoing regular STI testing, and maintaining open communication, we can prevent the transmission of STIs. If you are a parent, talk to your kids about sexual health. If you are sexually active, be responsible, considerate and proactive when it comes to your own sexual health, and don't be shy to speak to new partners about it.