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West Midlands university freshers urged to use condoms amid record levels of gonorrhoea


Young people aged 15 to 24 are the most likely to be diagnosed with STIs

  • Students urged to use a condom and get tested regularly to protect themselves and others

  • Testing is free and confidential, even if you are not showing any symptoms, with home testing kits available in most areas

There is a very real danger of catching a sexually transmitted infection (STI) if having condomless sex this freshers’ week, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is warning, as cases of gonorrhoea remain at record levels.

UKHSA is urging all those heading to university to use a condom with any new or casual partners, and to get tested regularly, after gonorrhoea diagnoses rocketed to 82,592 in 2022, an increase of more than 50% compared to 2021.

Young people aged 15 to 24 years remain the most likely to be diagnosed with STIs, and last year there were over 400 diagnoses of STIs every day in this age group.

Regional data in the 2022 STI Annual Report shows an increase of 40.3% in gonorrhoea from 2021 to 2022 in the West Midlands; while cases of syphilis diagnosed in the same period increased by 13.8% in the region.

Though STIs are usually easily treated with antibiotics, many can cause serious health issues if left untreated. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea can cause infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease, while syphilis can cause serious, irreversible and potentially life-threatening problems with your brain, heart, or nerves.

Many people do not show symptoms which means people often pass on STIs without realising it. Regular testing for STIs and HIV is essential – everyone should have an STI screen, including an HIV test, at least once a year if having condomless sex with new or casual partners.

Soili Larkin, UKHSA West Midlands Consultant in Public Health, said:“Starting university is an exciting time, meeting new people and socialising is an important part of the experience. However, it’s really important that people are aware of the risks of catching sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from condomless sex. We have seen a big increase in STI rates across the country, including the West Midlands, and these are predominantly in younger people.

“STIs aren’t just an inconvenience, they can have a major impact on your health and that of any sexual partners, but there are some easy steps you can take to reduce your risk of infection. Condoms are the best defence against STIs. If you didn’t use one the last time you had sex with a new or casual partner, please do get tested to detect any potential infections early and prevent passing them on to others. Testing is important because you may not have any symptoms of an STI.

“If you’re a student going to university for the first time or returning for a new year, it’s a good idea to get tested before you start having sex with a new or casual partner.”

Laura Domegan, Head of Nursing at Brook, said: “The STI stats speak for themselves. It’s never been more important to think about condoms and testing. Condoms are the only method that protect us from STIs so make sure you have some handy and know where to get more. Brook.org.uk/condoms will help you find where to access free condoms. And if you or your partner don’t like wearing condoms, remember they are available in different shapes, sizes, textures, colours and flavours, which can make sex more fun.

“And if you have unprotected sex, don’t worry, get tested. Anyone can get an STI, it doesn’t matter how many times you’ve had sex or what type of sex you’re having. STIs don’t always have symptoms, so don’t wait for them. Most areas have a home testing option so you can order a kit online to be posted to you. It’s that easy. You can find your nearest one at brook.org.uk/sti-testing.”

While the increase in gonorrhoea diagnoses will in part be due to increases in testing, the scale of the increase in diagnoses strongly suggests that there is more transmission of STIs within the population.

Gonorrhoea is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics and at risk of becoming untreatable in the future, making it vital that people test early and diagnose the infection so that they can prevent passing it on.

Many sexual health services in England now offer free STI self-sampling kits for people who aren’t showing any symptoms or signs of an STI and would prefer a routine check-up in the comfort and privacy of their own home.

If you notice any unusual symptoms, make sure to contact your local sexual health service and get tested.

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