Sexual diseases on the increase

MORE and more young people in the county are contracting sexually transmitted diseases.Health reporter Jessica Nicholls looks at the alarming new statistics.

By Jessica Nicholls

MORE and more young people in the county are contracting sexually transmitted diseases.

Health reporter Jessica Nicholls looks at the alarming new statistics.

SEXUALLY transmitted infections are on the rise among young people in Suffolk inundating sexual health clinics.

But because of countrywide staff shortages, clinics are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the influx of people coming to them for treatment.

HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis are all on the increase - particularly in people aged between 16 and 25 in the county.

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Within a three month period last year a total of 278 new cases of chlamydia were diagnosed in Suffolk along with 35 new cases of gonorrhoea. There were also three new cases of HIV.

Dr Heather Wankowska, a consultant at Ipswich hospital's department of sexual health, said she is extremely concerned about the amount of new cases in the county.

The rise in cases are a sign that more and more people are having unprotected sex and she warned that those who already have an STI are also more at risk of contracting the HIV virus.

Across the country new cases of HIV are on the rise.

Anonymous blood tests have shown that there are around 36,000 people infected in the country but startlingly one third of those do not know they have the disease.

Figures are rising particularly steeply in London and the south-west.

But statistics from the Public Health Laboratory Service show that in 1995 cases of chlamydia in men the eastern counties - including Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire - stood at 981, rising to 1990 in the year 2000. In women they rose from 1320 cases in 1995 to 2904 cases in 2000.

Men with gonorrhoea in the eastern region rose from 241 cases in 1995 to 583 cases in the year 2000.

Cases of gonorrhoea in women rose from 168 in 1995 to 313 in the year 2000.

Infections such as chlamydia, syphilis and HIV often show no symptoms so sufferers can in fact not even realise they have a problem for some considerable time, sometimes even years.

Dr Wankowska said: "Chlamydia can cause no symptoms so you don't necessarily know you have it.

"For the majority of people once it is found and treated it causes no permanent damage.

"But in a small number of women it can go up into the tubes and can cause damage to the lining which might make them more likely to suffer ectopic pregnancy or infertility."

Gonorrhea is also increasingly common. Dr Wankowska said: "We saw very little of it for many years but in the last three years locally we have seen a very definite increase.

"It worries us a great deal."

Dr Wankowska believes that more education about sexual infections is vital - but not just in schools.

She said: "We need to educate the whole population.

"Some young people get the wrong idea from their parents such as it is only people who have lots of partners or that it is only dirty people who get these infections.

"But you may only need to have sex with one person on one occasion to catch something.

"Anyone who has ever had sex is at risk of catching something – that is why it is so important to get yourself and your partner treated."

More and more people are doing exactly the right thing and coming forward to be tested and treated. And that is one reason why the clinics are so overwhelmed.

N The department of sexual health at Ipswich hospital does not just deal with treating sexually transmitted infections. It is also there to offer contraceptive advice, pregnancy testing, rape and domestic violence care and support as well as help with sexual problems.

All care is completely confidential and records are kept separately to hospital records, with files only being stored in the clinic.

All advice, tests and treatments are free with no prescription charges.

Appointments are available on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday morning and afternoon and Friday morning only. On Monday and Wednesday morning there is an open clinic.

For further information call 01473 711011.

FACTFILE: Chlamydia can have especially serious effects for women if left untreated and can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease.

Of those with symptoms of genital chlamydia, women may experience some unusual vaginal discharge, bleeding between periods, pain when passing urine and lower abdominal pain. Men may experience discharge from the penis, burning and itching in the genital area, and pain when passing urine. Symptoms may persist but in some cases, they may only last for a few days then disappear.

Gonorrhoea:

The early signs of gonorrhoea are often mild and some people can show no symptoms.

Symptoms in young women can include a painful and burning sensation when passing urine and discharge that is yellow or bloody. These symptoms appear 2 to10 days after becoming infected. Young men more frequently show signs of infection than young women - symptoms include a discharge from the penis and a severe burning when passing urine.

Syphilis:

n. The symptoms of syphilis are not specific. Though the illness usually begins with one or more painless but highly infectious sores, which appear anywhere on the body (but usually at the site of infection, this is not always the case). These sores clear up on their own in two to six weeks.

n. Secondary symptoms may develop 6 weeks to 6 months after the onset of primary sores. Later symptoms are highly variable, but may include a rash on the palms or soles.

n. Late syphilis occurs four or more years after an untreated primary infection. Complications may occur in the heart, respiratory tract or central nervous system.

WEBLINK

www.phls.co.uk

www.ipswichhospital.org.uk

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