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STDs in the UK

STIs and STDs in the UK

Over the past decade there has been a substantial increase in diagnoses of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the UK, particularly among young people.

Below you can find more information about the most common STDs in the UK, how many people have been diagnosed with an STD in the UK, and where to go for STD testing and treatment.

The UK's Health Protection Agency attribute the rise in STD diagnoses in recent years to increased rates of testing, improved diagnostic methods, and an increase in unsafe sexual behaviour among young people.1

In the UK young people aged 16-24 years are most at risk of being diagnosed with an STD. Chlamydia is the most common bacterial sexually transmitted disease and genital warts is the most common viral STD.

Chlamydia

Since 1999 the number of annual cases of chlamydia has more than doubled. In 2008 there were 123,018 new diagnoses of chlamydia in GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinics – a record number.

Chlamydia can have serious side effects, one of which is Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), which can lead to infertility in women. Chlamydia can have no symptoms and therefore many people do not come forward for testing, even though the infection can be easily diagnosed and effectively treated.

In 2003 the Department of Health set up the National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP). Since then the NCSP has expanded the number of places offering chlamydia screening to include more non-GUM health centres. Between 2008 and 2009 an estimated 16 percent of young people aged 15-24 in England were tested for chlamydia at a community setting (outside of GUM clinics).2 By 2009 an estimated 1.5 million chlamydia tests had been performed under the programme.3 However, the Department of Health has received criticism for the delivery of the programme, which has allegedly not demonstrated value for money.4

Gonorrhea

Cases of gonorrhea rose steadily from 1999 and peaked in 2002. Since then, the number of new cases has declined. Diagnoses are high among specific groups, such as black ethnic populations and men who have sex with men (MSM).5 The highest rates of diagnoses are among men aged 20-24 years and women aged 16-19 years.

There is concern about the increasing number of cases of gonorrhea found in the UK that are resistant to certain drugs used to treat it.6 This is particularly worrying as resistance can lead to a greater chance of treatment failure and will increase the length of time a person is infectious.

Genital herpes

Between 2005 and 2006 the largest increases in new diagnoses of genital herpes were among men aged 35-44 (15%) and 45-64 (18%) and among women aged 16-19 (16%) and 20-24 (11%).7 London had the highest rates of diagnoses per 100,000 population, followed by the North West, and Yorkshire and the Humber.

In 2008 a record number of people (28,957) were diagnosed with genital herpes in GUM clinics in the UK.8 Just over 60 percent of these diagnoses were among women.

Genital warts

The number of new diagnoses of genital warts in GUM clinics in the UK has increased by almost 30 percent since 1999. Genital warts are the most common viral STD diagnosed in the UK: in 2008 there were 92,525 diagnoses of genital warts in UK GUM clinics. The highest rates of diagnoses were among women aged 16-19 and men aged 20-24.

Genital warts are caused by some types of HPV (human papillomavirus). In 2008 the NHS launched a vaccination programme for girls aged 12 to 13 years and 17 to 18 years. The vaccination programme will offer new hope in reducing the number of diagnoses of genital warts among young people.

In December 2008 it was announced that all girls born on or after 1st September 1990 could receive the vaccine, due to the success of the programmes.9

Syphilis

The number of diagnoses of syphilis has risen substantially in the past decade in the UK. In 2008 there were 11 times the number of primary and secondary diagnoses in GUM clinics, than 1999. This rise has been attributed to a number of local outbreaks, the largest of which was in London between 2001 and 2004.10

The UK’s syphilis epidemic is largely concentrated among men who have sex with men (MSM), and to a lesser extent, heterosexual men and women.

Between 2007 and 2008 there was a slight decline in diagnoses in the UK. Syphilis still remains one of the less common STDs in the UK.

HIV

During 2008, 7,220 people were diagnosed with HIV in the UK.11 Although this represents a decline from the previous three years, the number of new diagnoses has more than doubled since 1999.

More information about HIV statistics in the UK can be found in the UK HIV and AIDS statistics summary page.

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STD diagnoses at GUM clinics

The graph below shows STD diagnoses at GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinics in the UK between 1999 and 2008.

STD diagnoses at GUM (genitourinary medicine) clinics in the UK: 1999-2008

The graph has been compiled from the following data from the Health Protection Agency's annual report. An improved STI surveillance system (GUMCAD) was introduced in England in 2009. The 2010 annual report statistically adjusted the 2000-2009 data to enable fair comparisons of STI diagnoses over time.12

Year Syphilis (primary and secondary) Gonorrhea (uncomplicated) Chlamydia (uncomplicated) Herpes (first attack) Genital Warts (first attack) Total new STD diagnoses
2000 327 21,292 67,173 17,590 70,414 278,783
2001 715 23,166 75,216 18,696 72,540 297,586
2002 1,186 25,009 86,127 19,187 74,013 318,172
2003 1,563 24,443 94,597 18,979 75,639 339,935
2004 2,176 21,845 103,137 18,815 79,093 357,160
2005 2,600 18,874 107,908 19,591 80,352 362,522
2006 2,565 18,480 112,013 21,605 82,592 369,476
2007 2,518 18,291 120,058 26,010 88,396 390,785
2008 2,304 16,121 122,276 28,807 91,503 392,808
2009 2,311 17,001 114,686 30,126 91,257 383,349
% change (2008-2009) 0% 5% -6% 5% 0% -2%
% change (2000-2009) 607% -20% 71% 71% 30% 38%

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GUM clinics

One place you can get tested and treated for STDs in the UK is at a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic. GUM clinics specialise in sexual health and provide free and confidential services. This means they will not pass details of your visit on to anyone else without your permission. There are no age restrictions and clinics can be attended without a referral from a doctor.

Most clinics provide both ‘drop-in’ and appointment services. It is best to phone the clinic to find out their opening times and to discuss which service would be most suitable.

Find your local GUM clinic.

An appointment with a doctor or sexual health nurse usually involves a brief discussion about your medical and sexual history, and which STDs you should be tested for.

Testing and treatment for most STDs is relatively simple. A full sexual health check-up usually involves providing a urine and blood sample, a quick examination of your genitals and if you are female, a swab from the vagina (which you can usually do yourself). Usually the tests will be carried out by a doctor or nurse of the same sex, but if not you will be able to request this.

The following pages have information about what STD testing involves and what treatment is available:

You can get the results for some STD tests the day you visit the clinic. For others you may have to wait a few days. If this is the case, the clinic will discuss with you whether you would like to be contacted about the results by text message, phone or by post (in an unmarked envelope).

Other places to get information about STDs

Other places may offer tests and treatment for some STDs, and may be able to offer advice on where to go for further help. These include:

  • Your general practitioner (GP)
  • A pharmacy
  • A community contraception clinic
  • A young people's service

The Department of Health also runs a sexual health helpline on 0800 567 123.

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References

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