Each year Public Health England releases the latest statistics for sexually transmitted infections (STIs). The most recent report published at the beginning of June identified that during 2016 there were a total of 417,584 new STI diagnoses made via sexual health services in England. This indicates a slight (-4%) overall decrease from 2015, where 436,928 cases were diagnosed.

The reduction in STI numbers at first glance appears to be a step in the right direction. However, several sexual health charities and professionals have raised their concerns as public health cuts could be having an impact on the amount of STI tests being carried out, thus producing a lower amount of diagnosed STIs.

Condition

Total new diagnoses in England in 2016

Per 1000 of estimated population

Male incidences (% of total)

Female incidences (% of total)

Rise on 2015 (%)

Rise on 2007 (%)

Chlamydia

202,546

3.7

84,908 (43.1%)

115,219 (56.9%)

95(<1%)

94,039 (86.7%)

Gonorrhoea

36,244

0.7

27,165 (75%)

9,073 (25%)

-5,018 (-12%)

19,125 (111.7%)

Herpes (genital)

31,860

0.6

11,638 (36.5%)

20,220 (63.5%)

-1,422 (-4%)

8,373 (35.6%)

First episode genital warts

62,721

1.1

35,374 (56.4%)

27,342 (43.6%)

-5,723 (-8%)

-12,551 (-16.6%)

Syphilis

5,920

0.1

5,598 (94.6%)

321 (5.4%)

639 (12%)

2,713 (84.6%)

Non-specific genital infection (NSGI)

36,774

0.7

32,521 (88.4%)

4,251 (11.6%)

-5,476 (-13%)

-35,719 (-49.3%)

  • Chlamydia is still the most commonly diagnosed STI in England and is responsible for close to half of all recorded STI cases.
  • It has been suggested that the 13 percent decrease in non-specific genital infections (NSGI) being diagnosed could be attributed to more infection-specific tests being carried out.
  • The 12 percent hike in syphilis diagnosis continues to follow the recent upward trend, particularly amongst men who have sex with men (MSM). Figures for the infection are now the highest they have been since 1949.
  • For the past nine years cases of gonorrhoea have increased. However, the 2016 statistics show the first drop in the number of diagnoses being made. The 12 percent decrease in the number of gonorrhoea diagnoses being made is significant, but the results should be viewed with caution, as cases of the condition are still significantly higher than they were ten years ago.
  • A particular strain of gonorrhoea (HL-AziR) has shown resistance to the antibiotic azithromycin since 2014, and has been dubbed by the press as ‘super gonorrhoea’. Public Health England have acknowledged the possibility that gonorrhoea may become untreatable in the future.
  • The groups of people most at risk of contracting an STI include young heterosexuals between the age of 15-24 years, gay, bisexual or other men having sex with men (MSM) and black ethnic minorities.
  • Since the introduction of the HPV vaccination programme in 2008 there has been a steady decline in the number of cases of genital warts. Up until now the vaccination programme has only targeted adolescent girls but a pilot scheme was started in 2016 in an attempt to address HPV cases amongst men who have sex with men (MSM).

Public Health England and sexual health charities agree that the promotion of safe sex practices amongst all sexually active people is vital to prevent an upsurge in STIs. Correct and consistent use of condoms can significantly reduce the number of STIs being transmitted. 

The often symptomless nature of sexually transmitted infections means that regular STI testing is important in order to identify and treat conditions at the earliest opportunity. Current recommendations for sexually active people suggest getting tested for STIs at least once a year or after having unprotected sex.

Early detection and treatment can reduce the likelihood of long term damage and the risk of passing the infection onto your sexual partners. If you have concerns regarding STIs you can make an appointment at your local genitourinary medicine clinic (GUM clinic).