Cases of gonorrhoea in England have hit a record high, official figures revealed today.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) warned cases of the sexually transmitted infection (STI) are up by over a fifth on the previous highest year.
The rocketing rates are an ‘important reminder of the importance of testing for STIs’, health chiefs cautioned.
Condoms can stop the spread of the infection — the second most common bacterial STI in the UK after chlamydia.
Provisional UKHSA data published today indicates 56,327 cases were logged between January and September 2022, up 21 per cent on the 46,541 recorded in the same period in 2019, which was the previous high.
Provisional UKHSA data published today indicates 56,327 cases were logged between January and September 2022 (blue line), up 21 per cent on the 46,541 recorded in the same period in 2019 (green line)
Caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus, gonorrhoea is passed through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, as well as sharing vibrators or sex toys that have been used without a condom
Health bosses said the spike is largely being driven by those aged 15 to 24 ‘due to more frequent changes in sexual partners’.
Gonorrhoea is a particular cause for concern among experts because the bacteria behind the infection are evolving to become resistant to antibiotics.
In response to the figures, the UKHSA has urged people to wear a condom and get tested regularly if having sex with new or casual partners.
Gonorrhoea is usually easily treated with a single antibiotic injection.
However, without treatment it can spread to other parts of the body and have serious consequences, such as infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease.
WHAT IS GONORRHOEA?
Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus.
This bacteria is usually found in discharge from the penis or vaginal fluid.
It is passed through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, as well as sharing vibrators or sex toys that have been used without a condom.
The bacteria can infect the cervix, urethra, rectum, throat or eyes.
It can also spread from pregnant women to their unborn babies.
As the bacteria cannot survive outside the body for long, gonorrhoea is not spread by kissing, hugging, sharing towels, toilet seats or swimming.
Around one in 10 men and half of women experience no symptoms.
However, these can include:
- Thick green or yellow discharge from the genitals
- Pain when urinating
- Bleeding between periods in women
Treatment is usually a single antibiotic injection and tablet.
Gonorrhoea can be prevented by using condoms during sex and not sharing sex toys.
Source: NHS Choices
Dr Katy Sinka, a consultant epidemiologist and head of the STI section at the UKHSA, said: ‘Condoms aren’t just about preventing unwanted pregnancy; they are the main defence against STIs.
‘If you have had condomless sex with a new or casual partner, it is even more important to get tested to detect any potential infections early and prevent passing them on to others.’
She added: ‘You can get free condoms at your local sexual health clinic and if you’re under 25, you can also get them online.’
Caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus, gonorrhoea is passed through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, as well as sharing vibrators or sex toys that have been used without a condom.
The bacteria is usually found in discharge from the penis or vaginal fluid.
In the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates around 1.6million new infections occur each year.
It is the second most commonly reported bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the US but the health body estimates less than half of new infections go unreported as many infections are often asymptomatic.
Typical symptoms can include a thick green or yellow discharge from the vagina or penis, pain when urinating, discomfort in the rectum and bleeding between periods, according to the NHS.
An untreated infection can lead to infertility, pelvic inflammatory disease and can be passed on to a child during pregnancy.
Experts have blamed increasing infections on budget cuts to sexual health clinics across the country, as well as online dating apps.
Apps such as Tinder, Grindr and Bumble make it relatively easy for people to connect with new sexual partners, meet them quickly and move onto someone else.
Last year a report by the Local Government Association also revealed gonorrhoea and chlamydia cases were climbing sharply among pensioners.
This was blamed on an increasing number of older Brits finding new sexual partners via dating apps following divorce or bereavement.
Gonorrhoea can be easily diagnosed, either from a vaginal swab or a sample of urine.
Last year a report by the Local Government Association also revealed gonorrhoea and chlamydia cases were climbing sharply among pensioners. This was blamed on an increasing number of older Britons finding new sexual partners via dating apps following divorce or bereavement
All of these test samples can be done yourself and sent off for testing.
Dr Thomas Waite, deputy chief medical officer at the Department of Health & Social Care said: ‘Having safe sex and getting tested regularly is important to keep you and your sexual partners safe.
‘Condoms and early detection are absolutely fundamental in preventing and addressing the rise in cases we are currently seeing of gonorrhoea.
‘Cases can be diagnosed easily and treated with antibiotics. Testing is simple – samples are quick to take, can be collected at home, and sent off by post for analysis, making early detection accessible to everyone.’
Dr Claire Dewsnap, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, added: ‘The rise in gonorrhoea cases provides an important reminder of the importance of testing for STIs and wearing a condom every time you have sex.
‘By getting tested at least once a year, regardless of whether you’re showing symptoms, you can help minimise the risk of catching or passing on STIs when having sex.
‘Delaying access to the right care and treatment also risks developing longer term problems which can be more difficult to address. If you are concerned about STI transmission, sexual health clinics are on hand to help.’