The number of new sexually transmitted infections diagnosed in England increases to almost half a million, with chlamydia and gonorrhoea fuelling the increase.
The number of STIs diagnosed rose by 5 per cent overall, with the under-25s experiencing the highest rates.
Health officials have warned that the latest rise in the number of diagnoses for 2012 means that too many people are still putting themselves at risk through unsafe sex.
Almost half of all infections were chlamydia, which rose by 46 per cent, according to Public Health England (PHE). Known as the “silent” infection, because it can go unnoticed for so long, chlamydia is passed on by unprotected sex, and can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and damage women’s reproductive tract if left untreated.
New diagnoses of gonorrhoea, known as “the clap”, rose by 21 per cent, which is of concern to health chiefs because of new reports of a strain of the disease which is resistant to antibiotics.
Too many people are continuing to have unsafe sex, [putting] themselves at risk of STIs and the serious consequences associated with infection, including infertility – Dr Gwenda Hughes, PHE
Under-25s contributed to 64 per cent of all chlamydia and 54 per cent of genital warts diagnoses in heterosexuals in 2012.
There was also a large increase of STIs among men who have sex with men, including a 37 per cent increase in gonorrhoea diagnoses.
And cases of STIs continued to rise in the over-45 age group (though by a much smaller margin than their younger counterparts) from 53,000 in 2011 to 54,000 in 2012.
In total, there were just under 450,000 diagnoses of STIs made in England in 2012.
PHE said that part of the reason for the rise was down to increased testing, and because chlamydia diagnoses at community-based settings among the over-24s are now included in the figures for the first time.
But experts warned that the figures still betray high levels of unsafe sexual behaviour. The PHE report calls for more regular STI screening and easier access to sexual health services, particularly for high risk groups.
“We are diagnosing and treating more infections than ever before,” said Dr Gwenda Hughes, PHE head of STI surveillance.
Britain’s sexual health is on a slippery slope and without sustained local investment across the whole country it can only get worse – Lisa Power, Terrence Higgins Trust
“However, these data show too many people are continuing to have unsafe sex, [putting] themselves at risk of STIs and the serious consequences associated with infection, including infertility. Ongoing investment in programmes to increase sexual health awareness, condom use and testing, particularly for groups at most risk, is vital.”
Local authorities should continue to integrate chlamydia screening into broader health services for young adults, added Dr Hughes, which she said will help them maintain good sexual health.
Lisa Power, policy director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “Britain’s sexual health is on a slippery slope and without sustained local investment across the whole country it can only get worse.”
She said that the 21 per cent increase in gonorrhoea was particularly worrying.
“It is vital that people, particularly young people starting their adult lives, understand how to prevent sexual ill-health. This includes using condoms and going for regular check-ups as well as valuing the importance of healthy relationships,” she said.