It is a sad statistic that the occurrence of STIs in the UK is rising year on year. From 2008 to 2009 it rose 3% to 482,696 new cases. In the information age it is alarming to find that such a preventable group of diseases seems to be the subject of such ignorance.
What makes these statistics even more concerning is that the UK Health Protect Agency (HPA) reports that young people (18-24 years old) are most likely to be infected and that 10% of those diagnosed with an infection become re-infected within a year.
So is this really ignorance or is it a belief amongst young people that STIs are not such a “big deal”. After all if you can take a pill and the STI goes away that’s OK isn’t it? Even HIV can now be controlled with medication and suffers lead healthy and active lives for many years.
Well no. STIs, even curable ones, can have long term health impacts. Chlamydia (up by 7% from 2008 to 2009) for example can cause sterility if left untreated for too long and repeated infections simply increase the risk of this happening. Genital warts (human papillomavirus), Chlamydia and Herpes Simplex have now been positively linked to cervical cancer, which although curable still kills 957 women in the UK each year (figures correct as of 2008).
In addition to this lack of recognition of the potential impact on an individual’s later life some infections are becoming harder to treat. Gonorrhoea which is currently treatable with antibiotics is becoming resistant and some experts believe that by 2015 it may be a difficult infection to manage.
Urban areas, often classified as deprived, seem to be the most affected by this rise. In London Lambeth and Hackney are singled out and around the country Manchester, Nottingham and Blackpool amongst others are mentioned as areas where the problem requires attention.
The rate of infection and the rate of re-infection points to the simplest and most effective of preventative measures being ignored. The universal use of condoms during sex outside long-term relationships would give an immediate reduction in the infection rates for all STIs. The reason condoms are not being used has to be as mentioned above, a belief that a pill will put everything right and that young people especially find it difficult to insist that a partner practices safe sex.
In the current economic climate of cuts and belt tightening let’s hope the UK government doesn’t scale back its efforts in the area of sexual health education or this situation could deteriorate even more.
You might find this video somewhat appropriate.