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HPSC

STI notifications increase by more than 20% when compared to pre-pandemic levels

The increase is largely driven by a rise in gonorrhoea and chlamydia notifications.

THE NUMBER OF STI notifications in Ireland have increased by more than 20% since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) today published figures on the STI notifications to the end of 2022.

Given the reduction in notifications during 2020 and 2021 as a result of the pandemic, the HPSC has compared 2022 figures to 2019.

Overall, there’s been a 22.7% increase in the number of STI notifications when comparing 2022 to 2019.

The HPSC said this increase is largely driven by a 45% increase in gonorrhoea cases and a 20% increase in chlamydia.

The HPSC added that notifications of early infectious syphilis (EIS), genital herpes and trichomoniasis have remained relatively stable.

There were 10,995 reported cases of chlamydia last year, 4,075 cases of gonorrhoea, and 1,619 cases of genital herpes.

The groups most affected by STIs last year were young people aged between 15 and 24, with two fifths of all STIs notified last year affecting people aged 25 or under.

STI notification rates amongst females ages 20-24 increased by 34% when compared to 2019, with gonorrhoea rates increasing by 75% within this group.

STI notification rates among males of the same age increased by 17%, while gonorrhoea rates increased by 56%.

The HPSC also noted that some STIs “disproportionately affected gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men”, with this group accounting for 99% of mpox and 71% of gonorrhoea notifications.

Preliminary data for the first 15 weeks of this year shows an increase in notifications for chlamydia and gonorrhoea when compared to the first 15 weeks of 2022.

‘Increasing trends’

The HPSC said the increase in STIs is likely a combination of a number of factors.

It noted that increasing trends were evident before 2019.

The HPSC also pointed to the resumption of normal socialising in 2022.

In addition to this, the HPSC notes that STI home testing services were rolled out on a pilot basis in 2021, before expanding overtime to cover all counties by October 2022.

Greater testing capacity could therefore lead to greater detection rates.

Almost 57,000 home testing kits were returned to a lab for processing last year, which results in the detection of 4,121 cases of chlamydia and 993 cases of gonorrhoea.

The HPSC said this accounts for around 38% of chlamydia notifications last year, and 23% of gonorrhoea cases.

While STIs are usually easily treatable, the HPSC warns that “some STIs can cause serious health issues such as infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease”.

It also notes that “many people are unaware that they have an STI as they are often asymptomatic”.

Dr Derval Igoe, a specialist in Public Health Medicine with the HPSC advised that “consistent condom use, particularly when changing partners, is key for prevention”.

She added: “So too is availing of testing following unprotected sex, which helps in early detection and treatment and prevents passing on infection to others.”

‘Alarming rise’

HIV Ireland, a charity which advocates for those living with HIV, said there has been an “alarming rise” in some STIs and called for an “urgent response”.

It said investment in targeted and strategic preventive measures, including improved education for younger people, is urgently required to “stem the rising numbers of STIs in Ireland”.

The executive director of HIV Ireland Stephen O’Hare said: “We know that clinic and community-based STI services remain severely stretched, with many services struggling to meet current or expected demand.

“We also know that notified cases of HIV, not detailed in today’s report but outlined in weekly published data by the HPSC, continue to rise in conjunction with other STIs.”

The number of HIV cases notified to the HPSC in the first 15 weeks of this year was 256, a 54% increase on the same period in 2022 when 166 cases were notified.

O’Hare said this “places additional burden on clinics who are struggling to meet demand for preventive services, including access to PrEP [pre-exposure prophylaxis], which prevents someone acquiring HIV through sex.”

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