Sexually transmitted infections down by almost a third in 2020

Public Health England warns cases ‘remain high’ despite the decrease

<p>A doctor hands a man a condom</p>

A doctor hands a man a condom

The number of sexually transmitted infections (STI) in England fell by almost a third last year, the latest figures show.

A new report, published by Public Health England (PHE) on Tuesday 7 September, shows that in 2020, there were 317,901 new cases of sexually transmitted infections.

Although this was a 32 per cent decrease compared to 2019, PHE has warned that cases still remain high.

The decline is believed to be due to a combination of reduced testing during the pandemic because of disruption to health services, as well as changes in behaviour during three national lockdowns.

As in previous years, the highest rates of STIs in 2020 were seen in young people aged between 15 and 24, Black people, and gay and bisexual men.

In 2020, the number of face-to-face consultations carried out by sexual health services fell by 35 per cent. However, remote consultations by telephone increased by almost 200 per cent, while internet consultations were up by more than 500 per cent.

This shift toward an increase in remote consultations was reflected in the diagnoses.

The largest decrease in STIs in 2020 was seen in infections that are usually diagnosed face-to-face, such as genital herpes and warts, with rates of infection dropping from 46 per cent in 2019 to 40 per cent in 2020 in these conditions.

PHE said its survey data suggests that “although fewer people reported meeting new sex partners during 2020 compared to previous years, a substantial proportion still had an ongoing risk for STIs” in 2020.

Dr Katy Sinka, head of the sexually transmitted infections section at PHE, urged the public to take precautions now that social distancing measures have been lifted.

“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,” she said.

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”.

“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-19 in terms of our STI response and capitalise on this once-in-a-generation scenario,” Laycock said.

“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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