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Safe sex warning for gay men as England sees surge in STIs

Safe sex warning for gay men as England sees surge in STIs

UK health experts are urging gay men to practice safe sex after alarming new figures reveal a sharp increase in sexually transmitted infections.

According to new data released by the Health Protection Agency today (31 May), there has been an upsurge in the number of new STI diagnoses in England in 2011, with the biggest increase seen among men who have sex with men.

The HPA says it is ‘concerned’ by the report, which shows gonorrhoea up by 61%, chlamydia increased by 48% and syphilis seeing a 28% rise on last year’s figures.

Dr Gwenda Hughes, head of STI surveillance at the HPA, says while some of the increases in gonorrhoea and chlamydia is down to more thorough testing methods, such as throat and rectum swabs, unsafe sex is definitely playing a role.

She said: ‘We anticipated some increase in diagnoses due to improvements in testing in recent years, but not on the scale seen here.

‘These data show that too many people are putting themselves at risk of STIs and serious health problems by having unsafe sex.’

She added that gonorrhoea is becoming increasingly difficult to treat because of increase in resistance to the antibiotics.

Dr Hughes told Gay Star News: ‘It might be an infection which is very difficult to treat in the future and we really want people to avoid getting it in the future. That means always using a condom with new and casual partners.’

Lisa Power, of sexual health charity The Terrence Higgins Trust (THT), also urged gay men to wear condoms and go for regular check-ups, saying infections like gonnorhoea can be symptomless and go unnoticed.

She added that THT were also ‘very concerned’ about the rise in syphilis, saying it is a particular problem among HIV positive men.

Power said: ‘I think one of the problems we have is that there are a number of gay men who have convinced themselves that if they’re HIV positive they don’t have to worry about anything when they have sex with other positive men.

‘Whereas in fact, treatment as prevention only works on HIV and if you’re wandering around having multiple sexual partners, it’s not going to work at all.’

Power points to the rise in popularity of social networking and dating apps as a possible reason for why the safe sex message isn’t getting through to everybody.

She said: ‘There was a similar spike when gay men first started going on the internet and meeting partners through that.

‘And now a lot of men are reaching other men through apps and it has taken us a while to catch up. Now we’ve got a Facebook game, which is talking to gay men about reducing partner numbers, saying the more men you sleep with, the more likely you are to end up with one of these STIs.

‘It’s about devising these new ways of getting the message through in the place or at the time they’re thinking of having sex.’

The HPA and THT both recommend gay and bisexual men having unprotected sex with casual or new partners to have an HIV/STI screen at least annually and every three months if changing partners regularly.