Travellers 'should have STD tests on return'

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Sexual encounters among young people on holiday are so frequent that returning travellers should be screened for sexually transmitted diseases, according to a specialist

Sexual encounters among young people on holiday are so frequent that returning travellers should be screened for sexually transmitted diseases, according to a specialist

Writing in the British Medical Journal today, Karen Rogstad, a consultant in the department of genito-urinary medicine at the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield, recommends that those who had sex with a new partner while on holiday should be checked for gonnorhoea, chlamydia, syphilis and HIV once they are back in the UK.

Identifying an explosion of sexual diseases in the UK, she quotes research from a particular sexual health clinic, which recorded that all people attending the clinic within three months of their return from holiday had engaged in sexual relations with a new partner during the holiday. Two thirds had not used condoms or had used them haphazardly.

Excessive consumption of alcohol, lack of condom use and the rate at which partners are changed are all contributing factors to a rising infection rate, she says.

Ms Rogstad, who conducted a review of research and information available to holidaymakers, says that more education is vital to counter the problem.

Her review mentions a study which suggested that tour operators who promote sex by presenting prizes to new sexual partners were contributing to the explosion of sexual diseases in the UK. Yet holidaymakers receive little advice on how to reduce their risk or avoid infection, she says. Only 3 per cent of travel brochures include advice on safe sex.

One study of holidaymakers in Tenerife showed that half of those aged 25 or under had sex with someone new while on holiday. Among those aged over 25, over one in five (22 per cent) had sex with someone new.

Ms Rogstad writes: "The alarming increase in bacterial sexually transmitted infections and HIV in the UK, as well as marked international variation in the prevalence of STIs worldwide, including more than 40 million people living with HIV, make any sexual encounter potentially hazardous ... the risk of STIs due to sexual intercourse on holiday is potentially increased through exposure to new sexual networks, the rate at which partners are changed while away, lack of condom use and consumption of alcohol."

Among cases of syphilis in heterosexual men in the UK, 21 per cent were from sexual contacts abroad and 9 per cent of people with gonnorhoea said they had sex abroad in the previous three months.

More than two thirds of British-born heterosexual men and a quarter of women infected with HIV contracted it through sex while abroad.

Sex tourists, who tend to be older, run the "ultimate risk," Dr Rogstad writes.

A study of male German sex tourists in Thailand found most were aged 30 to 40, with well paid jobs, but only 30-40 per cent used condoms. That many did not regard their Thai sex partners as prostitutes but as girlfriends often led them to abandon condoms.

Ms Rogstad suggests that a Hepatitis B vaccination should also be considered for people at risk who come to the clinic soon after their last intercourse, and for sex tourists. Doctors, who are already taught to take a travel history from anyone with a fever, should also take a sexual travel history from anyone with genital symptoms, rashes, hepatitis or glandular fever-like illness, she says.

Sex-and-sangria packages that granny definitely wouldn't like

Package tour operators are all too aware of the hackneyed marketing maxim that sex sells - especially when it comes to young holidaymakers.

Perhaps the most notorious among UK tour operators is Club 18-30, which last year was at the centre of a police crackdown against rowdy British tourists in Faliraki on the Greek island of Rhodes. It followed the broadcasting of a video shot by a Greek businessman showing three female Club 18-30 reps performing oral sex on two male colleagues and a holidaymaker, organised by the company on a Corfu public beach.

Club 18-30, owned by Thomas Cook, rakes in £40m a year and has 13 resorts across Europe. Launched under the slogan "Your granny wouldn't like it", the first trip took 580 tourists, accompanying the firm's founder, David Heard, to the Costa Brava.

It gained a reputation for its drinking games and easy sex. Advertising campaigns were equally basic - with catchlines such as "Beaver Espana" and "Girls, can we interest you in a package holiday?" accompanied by a picture of a man in boxer shorts.

In 2002, Saatchi & Saatchi won a coveted creativity award at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France, for its Club 18-30 campaign. Its posters showed scantily clad holidaymakers on a beach, at a bar and around a pool - their positioning suggesting sexual activity.

After a hiccup in the early 1990s, Club 18-30 has enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity.