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Looking at London’s sexual health

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: London Region, Sexual health


On 5 July 2016, Public Health England released the annual Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) and National Chlamydia Screening Programme data giving an overview both nationally and regionally of new cases of STIs in 2015.

This week new figures were released which show one in every four sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in England is diagnosed in London. In 2015 alone there were a staggering 118,774 new STIs diagnosed among residents in the capital equating to an average of 325 every day- these are worrying numbers.

The figures show that despite united efforts of the health profession in sharing advice about practising infection–free sex, in particular reducing the number of sexual partners, avoiding overlapping intimate relationships and encouraging people in high risk groups to get tested repeatedly at frequent intervals, it seems many are ignoring this and suffering the consequences.

London has the highest burden of new STI diagnoses in England. Out of the top 20 local authorities in England with the highest rates of new STI diagnoses, 18 are in London. This shows that attaining good sexual health remains one of the biggest public health challenges facing people in the city today.

We urgently need to understand more about what is behind some people’s reluctance to get tested and if they need to, treated.

Certain STIs seem to be a particular concern for Londoners. Gonorrhoea alone rose by 15% in 2015, with 18,945 cases being diagnosed. It now represents 16% of all new STIs and London makes up nearly half (49%) of all gonorrhoea diagnoses in England.

Certain groups are more affected than others in London. STI rates are especially high among both men who have sex with men (MSM) and people aged under 25.

Despite representing less than an estimated 2% of the London adult population (3.8% of the male population) more than two thirds of all gonorrhoea diagnoses in the capital – 72% - were among MSM last year.

Diagnoses of gonorrhoea among MSM increased 22% from 10,866 in 2014 to 13,229 in 2015. This sharp rise is of particular concern as we know that MSM are increasingly aware of and accessing sexual health services. The infections are easy to diagnose, but breaking the chain of transmission through personal action is proving very difficult.

If you are having condomless sex with new or casual partners, you should be regularly getting sexual health tests.

STIs among London’s under 25s are also worrying; 36% of new STI diagnoses in London residents were in those aged between 15 and 24 years which implies a new approach is needed to embed safe practices early in adolescence.

Those who take part in risky sexual behaviour not only expose themselves to infections but also expose others.

In contrast to some infections, symptoms of some STIs can be mild and short-lived. But those who do not get tested do not know whether they have an STI or not. This puts all future partners at risk of the onward transmission of infection, and delays in treatment for the individual themselves.

These infections continue to circulate because of risky sexual encounters. The way to halt the rise, and begin the decline, is to make those sexual encounters safe and when we know this not to be the case, to intervene early in identifying those at risk of onward transmission and encouraging them to get tested. Health professionals are doing all they can to support this, but individuals have a responsibility to take action too.

If you are having condomless sex with new or casual partners, you should be regularly getting sexual health tests.

Whilst it is difficult to be precise in terms of how frequently, those with multiple overlapping partners should be testing at least three monthly, irrespective of whether or not they are experiencing symptoms of infection.

STIs have increased by 2% year-on-year in London from 116,692 diagnoses in 2014 to 118,774 in 2015. Despite the evidence of increasing numbers of STIs, some people may still be prepared to take risks with their own sexual health -but nobody is empowered to risk the sexual health of others.

Image: Pixabay

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