Number of sexually transmitted disease cases up by almost 45% in first half of year

Limited testing during periods of Covid-19 restrictions may have created some level of ‘pent up’ demand, HIV group says

Data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre show a total of 7,824 STD cases were reported to health officials in the first half of the year, up 43 per cent on the same period in 2021. Photograph: iStock

There was a 45 per cent increase in the number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) recorded in the first half of the year when compared to the same period last year, according to figures from the State’s infectious disease monitoring body.

Data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) show that between week one and week 27 of this year a total of 7,824 STD cases were reported to health officials, 43 per cent higher than the 5,462 recorded during the same period a year ago, when testing would have been impacted by Covid-19 restrictions. Prior to the pandemic, there were 7,280 STD cases reported in the first 26 weeks of 2019.

HIV has had the highest increase in prevalence this year with 413 cases reported in the first six months, up by 132 per cent or 178 cases.

Lymphogranuloma venereum also had a significant percentage increase, though from a relatively low base. There have been 16 cases recorded so far this year, up from seven in the first half of last year. The STD, caused by a specific strain of chlamydia, is most commonly found in men who have sex with men.

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Chlamydia is the most common STD type in almost all age groups, with 4,541 cases of the infection reported in the first half of the year. The only age group which did not have chlamydia as the most common infection was those aged 60 and older, who had 19 cases of genital herpes, compared with 17 cases of both chlamydia and gonorrhea.

People aged 20 to 24 had the highest number of reported cases of STDs at 2,398. Men accounted for more of the total number infected than women, at 4,673 to 3,108.

According to the HPSC, there were 13 cases of STDs being identified in children aged 14 and under so far this year. This included nine cases of chlymadia, two of HIV, one of gonorrhea and one of syphillis.

Increased socialising

Stephen O’Hare, chief executive of HIV Ireland, said that while an increase is opportunities to socialise and meet people following the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions had “likely” contributed to the rise, the organisation believes easier access to testing and clinical services is the biggest factor.

“In 2021, because of the closure to clinical services, there were ongoing difficulties in people getting access to these type of services during the restriction periods,” he said. “However, that said, we have noticed that in the past six to eight weeks, since Easter, we are seeing a significantly higher number of newly notified cases of HIV. It would normally run at 10 to 12 a week, now we’re seeing it at about 30.”

Mr O’Hare said it was difficult to know definitively but it was likely that there is “pent up” demand and that the infections being notified now could have occurred last year. Another element, he said, was that there has been a difference in migration patterns with people from Ukraine entering the country.

“Ukraine has a significant problem with HIV. These figures relate to not just new transmission but also people who are living with HIV who are changing medical providers, so by coming to Ireland and registering with doctors, that could be a factor as well,” he said.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times