Risky behaviour leads to rapid rise in STDs

HIV test
HIV test

A medical specialist has warned that an urgent response is needed to combat rapidly spreading sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, in Ireland.

The strong re-emergence of syphilis and gonorrhoea has seen ‘traditional’ venereal infections reach “record levels”, said Dr Derek Freedman, one of the nation’s most experienced sexually transmitted disease specialists, who recently hosted the International Union against Sexually Transmitted Infections (IUSTI) 2018 World Congress in Dublin.

Increasingly risky behaviour, linked to unprotected sex, has meant there is a need for a big increase in front-line doctors and clinic capacities, he said. The booming Irish economy has contributed to the big increase in STDs in Ireland: ‘have money – will party’ and migration to Ireland for work, together with a rise in “risky” sexual behaviour, he said.

The biggest increases in STDs were among gay men, he said.

The Health Protection Surveillance Centre figures for the last week in June show there were 28 new cases of gonorrhoea, bringing the total so far this year to 1,019. The weekly total for new syphilis cases was eight, bringing the number of cases in the past six months to 261.

There were 155 new cases of chlamydia, bringing the total so far this year to 3,699.

Dr Freedman told the Sunday Independent: “In the 1990s, I might have seen two or three cases of gonorrhoea a year. Now, I would see two or three cases in a single day.

“There is a syphilis epidemic going on as we speak. I might have seen a handful of cases a year in the past. Now I’m seeing that in a month.”

Latest figures show more than 7,000 people in Ireland have the HIV virus and it is estimated there are more than 900 people with the virus who remain undiagnosed.

Today the importance of early diagnosis and starting treatment as soon as possible is recognised everywhere. At the IUSTI congress, same-day diagnosis and treatment was reported from a New York walk-in neighbourhood clinic with very good results.

Where successful HIV treatment has resulted in patients’ viral loads being brought down to undetectable levels, it would be “utterly unusual” for the patient to pass on HIV through sex, Dr Freedman said.

“One suspects that treatment for HIV is now so effective, people are going out cruising, partying much more. Fuelled by alcohol usually, casual encounters result in infection risk and often overburdening anxiety,” the Dublin-based specialist added.

“The public clinics are unfortunately completely under-resourced to manage the infections which are in the city today.”

An HSE spokeswoman said that in 2016 and 2017, the HIV notification rate in Ireland was 10.6 per 100,000 population, compared with 5.7 per 100,000 in EU/EEA countries.

Sunday Independent

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