Rates of sexually transmitted diseases hit record high in Lancashire

Sexually transmitted infections rose in Lancashire last year, figures show, as cases across England hit their highest level in over a century.

Friday, 11th September 2020, 12:30 pm
Gonorrhoea rates in Lancashire are at their highest level since comparable local records began

Experts say the large rise in gonorrhoea diagnoses nationally is worrying, with the sexually transmitted infection becoming more resistant to antibiotics over time.

Public Health England figures show 909 cases of gonorrhoea were diagnosed in Lancashire in 2019.

That was up by 25 per cent from the 730 infections reported a year earlier, and the highest number since comparable local records began in 2012.

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It meant the area had a gonorrhoea infection rate of 75 per 100,000 people – below the North West’s average rate of 97. Across England as a whole, 126 in every 100,000 people was infected with gonorrhoea last year.

Cases across England swelled by 26 per cent over the year to 70,936 – the highest number since records began in 1918.

The national figure includes 1,400 people who accessed services in England but lived elsewhere in the UK or abroad.

Gonorrhoea is the second most common bacterial STI in the UK after chlamydia and can sometimes be symptomless.

Dr Hamish Mohammed, national lead for sexually transmitted infection surveillance at PHE, said: “The considerable rise of gonorrhoea cases in England as well as the continued rise of other STIs is concerning.

“It is important to emphasise that STIs can pose serious consequences to health.

“We expect to see further cases of antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea in the future, which will be challenging for healthcare professionals to manage.”

In Lancashire, overall STI cases fell to 7,468 last year, down by 10 per cent from 8,341 in 2018. Across England, cases rose by five per cent.

PHE said the rise was likely to be due to people not using condoms correctly and consistently with new and casual partners, and an increase in testing helping improve detection of the most common infections.

Chlamydia was the most commonly diagnosed infection last year, with 229,411 – or nearly half – of all new STI diagnoses in 2019.

Among young people aged 15 to 24, the number of chlamydia tests carried out rose two per cent compared with 2018.

Dr John McSorley, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, said the year-on-year rise in STI diagnoses is “hugely concerning”.

“This year we have seen how crucial investment in public health services is to support the wellbeing of populations more widely, and we must consider how we can continue to improve access to services for all those who need them and those at the highest risk,” he added.

​PHE said it is analysing the data to understand the impact of the Covid-19 response on HIV and STI services and the effect of social distancing measures on the spread of STIs.

Ian Green, chief executive of sexual health charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, said the figures reveal the “ongoing inaction and lack of vision for improving the nation’s sexual health”.

He added: “Rates of sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhoea and syphilis are rising significantly while sexual health services are over-burdened and under-funded.”

Mr Green said that as people start to have sex again in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown, access to testing and treatment should be “scaled up in parallel”.