Gonorrhoea fears as docs warn dont swap social distancing for STI

Public Health England (PHE) has revealed that diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections in England dramatically dropped by almost a third last year.

It is believed that the decline is due to sex-sensible Brits reporting a change in behaviour during lockdown as well as fewer tests being done.

But despite diagnoses decreasing by 32% last year compared with 2019, data shows that diagnoses remain high overall.

Following the new data, experts have warned people not to "swap social distancing for an STI" as we continue to recover from the coronavirus outbreak.

The warning comes as no surprise as many sex-starved Brits have started to return to their pre-pandemic activities after months of being on a begrudging sex drought.

Last year, services to identify infections were scaled up to take the form of phone and internet consultations, and PHE said 317,901 STIs were diagnosed.

It has also been reported that consultations at sexual health services in 2020 decreased by 10% in 2019, with the biggest fall in face-to-face consultations.

These were down by 35% in 2019, PHE said, while internet consultations doubled over the same time period.

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Public Health England reported a 25% fall in sexual health screening – tests for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, or HIV.

PHE said infections that require an in-person assessment, like genital warts and herpes, saw a greater drop in diagnoses. They fell by 46% and 40% respectively.

Sexually transmitted diseases that can be diagnosed using self-sampling kits and an internet consultation fell by less, with chlamydia and gonorrhoea dropping by 29% and 20% respectively.

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Dr Katy Sinka, head of the sexually transmitted infections section at PHE, said: "No-one wants to swap social distancing for an STI and, as we enjoy the fact that national Covid-19 restrictions have lifted, it’s important that we continue to look after our sexual health and wellbeing.

"If you are having sex with new or casual partners, use a condom and get tested – STIs can pose serious consequences to your own health and that of your current or future sexual partners."

Debbie Laycock, head of policy at HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust, welcomed the "significant drop" as "one unexpected good news story from the coronavirus pandemic".

She insisted that online testing "must now be maintained and expanded with greater consistency across the country".

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She added: "It is good news that we’ve finally seen a significant drop in STI rates in England, but we need to 'build back better' after Covid in terms of our STI response and capitalise on this once-in-a-generation scenario.

"That includes investment in our sexual health services and ensuring the Government’s sexual and reproductive health strategy, due out later this year, is properly funded and ambitious enough to improve the nation’s sexual health."

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