Worrying rise in diagnoses of some STIs – Chief Medical Officer

Date published: 16 November 2022

There are worrying increases in the diagnoses of some Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), the Chief Medical Officer has said.

Professor Sir Michael McBride said there was a growing trend of chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis diagnoses in Northern Ireland compared to pre-pandemic levels.

Sir Michael was addressing the 27th Annual Regional Sexual Health Conference in NI, which brought together 200 delegates from a range of statutory organisations including the Health and Social Care Trusts, the Public Health Agency (PHA) and wider civil society.

The CMO told conference delegates that some of the increases in diagnoses may reflect a rise in the identification of cases due to better access to testing.

But he added: “There are also indicators of increased transmission including increased positivity rates among online testers and similar trends in increasing STI diagnosis in the Republic of Ireland and other parts of the UK.

“Consequently, the Public Health Agency is currently working on the development of a mass media campaign to raise awareness regarding sexual health, STI risk and testing access.”

This campaign is due to run in parallel with Sexual Health Awareness week in early 2023.

“In advance of this, the PHA will develop universal and targeted messaging regarding STIs and testing, working alongside essential community and voluntary sector partners,” Sir Michael added.

Figures released this week from the PHA showed there was a 47% increase in the overall number of STI tests carried out in 2021 compared with before the pandemic in 2019.

This was due to a significant increase in home STI testing, commissioned by the health service.

However, there was an increase in diagnoses made in sexual health clinics (GUM clinics) across all STIs groupings.

Sir Michael said work had recommenced on the development of a sexual health improvement action plan.

Work on this had started in late 2019, but was delayed due to the pandemic.

Notes to editors: 

  1. In 2021 the number of STI tests within GUM clinics increased by 31% when compared to 2020. This follows the 69% decrease in STI testing in 2020 when compared with 2019.
  2. There was a 45% increase in home STI testing in 2021 when compared with 2020.
  3. New diagnoses of chlamydia decreased by 3% - 750 diagnoses in 2021 compared with 775 in 2020. However, taking into account diagnoses made via online sexual health testing service SH24 -  there has been an overall 35% increase in chlamydia.
  4. New diagnoses of gonorrhoea increased by 43% - 652 in 2021 compared with 455 in 2020.
  5. New diagnoses of genital herpes simplex (first episode) increased by 19% - 348 in 2021 compared with 293 in 2020.
  6. There has been no significant change in the new diagnoses of genital warts (first episode) in 2021 compared with 2020.
  7. New diagnoses of infectious syphilis increased by 1% - 75 in 2021 compared with 76 in 2020.
  8. For media enquiries please contact DoH Press Office by e-mail pressoffice@health-ni.gov.uk
  9. Follow us on Twitter @healthdpt
  10. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for Media Enquiries Only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The Duty Press Officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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