A young person is diagnosed with chlamydia or gonorrhea every four minutes in England, Public Health England (PHE) has said.
There were more than 144,000 diagnoses of the two sexually transmitted infections (STIs), also referred to as STDs, in people aged between 15 and 24 last year – equating to just under 400 a day.
A significant increase in gonorrhea diagnoses in England was recorded, with a 22% rise in cases of the disease from 2016 to 2017.
“STIs present a real threat to young people, and without using condoms, young people are putting themselves and their partners at risk of getting an STI,” said Dr Hamish Mohammed, Consultant STI Scientist at PHE.
The figures were announced alongside a campaign by PHE urging young people to use condoms.
Around two-thirds of chlamydia cases and one-third of gonorrhea cases in England last year were in the 15 to 24-year-old age bracket, the findings showed.
“Often STIs don’t have any symptoms, with four in 10 cases of chlamydia in women and around half of the cases in men symptomless, and they can have serious consequences,” said Dr. Sara Kayat, a general practitioner at Gray’s Inn Medical Practice in London.
“Rates of STIs remain high in young people, and we want to make sure people know that the best way to protect themselves from getting an STI is to use a condom,” Kayat said.
Overall, there were 422,147 STIs diagnosed across all ages groups in England last year, of which just under half were chlamydia.
The overall number was steady from the previous year, thanks in part to a 90% decline in genital warts diagnoses in 15 to 17-year-olds following a national immunization program.
But cases of syphilis were at their highest level since 1949.
“The statistics are really concerning,” Cynthia Graham, professor of sexual and reproductive health at the University of Southampton, told CNN. “There has been for many years now a push towards long-acting reversible contraception, which are highly effective methods of contraception - but they don’t protect at all, of course, against STIs,” she said.
“There hasn’t been the same attention in the UK towards STIs that there has been toward unintended pregnancies,” she added. “There should be a lot more attention paid to condom distribution.”
Graham also pointed to complaints that young people make about using condoms, such as their effects on sensation, and on gendered perceptions about their use, as reasons for the STI rates amongst younger people.
“It’s still seen as a stigma for women to carry condoms. I find it amazing in 2018, that’s still around,” she said.
And she noted that cuts in public health funding are having an effect. “I almost think the rise in STIs could worsen over the next few years, because of the cuts,” she said.