Sexually transmitted infections on the rise in North, says health agency

Doctor warns of risk of antibiotic resistance in treatment of gonorrhoea in particular

‘We are urging people to always use a condom,’ said PHA doctor, Claire Neill. File photograph

‘We are urging people to always use a condom,’ said PHA doctor, Claire Neill. File photograph


The latest Northern Ireland sexual health figures released on Monday by the North’s Public Health Agency (PHA) show a rise in several types of infection.

Dr Claire Neill, specialist registrar with the PHA said the latest statistics for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) demonstrated how important it was for people at risk to take steps to reduce their vulnerability to such harm.

She also warned of “increasing levels of antibiotic resistance” to drugs used to treat gonorrhoea.

The latest figures for 2018 showed:

  • new diagnoses of chlamydia increased by 6 per cent: 1,787 diagnoses in 2018 compared with 1,684 in 2017;
  • new diagnoses of gonorrhoea increased by 30 per cent: 882 in 2018 compared with 679 in 2017;
  • new diagnoses of genital herpes increased by 8 per cent: 501 in 2018 compared with 463 in 2017;
  • new diagnoses of genital warts (first episode) decreased by 10 per cent: 1,436 in 2018 compared with 1,600 in 2017;
  • new diagnoses of syphilis increased by 72 per cent: 86 in 2018 compared with 50 in 2017.

Dr Neill said the increase in the incidence of gonorrhoea was particularly concerning. “In 2018, 882 new episodes of gonorrhoea were diagnosed in Northern Ireland GUM (genito-urinary medicine) clinics, compared with 679 in 2017 – the highest number reported in Northern Ireland to date,” she said.

Dr Neill said that 80 per cent of these were diagnosed in males, with a high proportion of those in men who have sex with men. There were also smaller but still important upward trends among heterosexuals, she added.

“As with elsewhere in the UK, we are seeing increasing levels of antibiotic resistance and this has led to a recent change in treatment guidelines for this infection,” she said.

“There is a real risk that antibiotic options will become less effective in the future, so it’s really important that we take steps to protect ourselves from becoming infected in the first place and reduce the potential for spreading gonorrhoea by wearing condoms.”

She said that people at risk should avail of regular screening. “The sooner an STI is diagnosed, the sooner it can be treated,” she said.

Dr Neill added, “People with STIs don’t always have symptoms, but by having unprotected sex, you could effectively be sleeping with everyone your partner’s ever slept with, putting yourself at risk of getting an STI. Therefore, we are urging people to always use a condom.”