The number of sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) diagnosed across England were down by almost a third in 2020, compared to the previous year, according to the latest figures.
The major drop was attributed to a combination of sexual behavioural changes among people who could no longer socialise in the way they could pre-pandemic, and fewer diagnoses because of a disruption to sexual health services.
According to Public Health England — who collected the data — diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) decreased in 2020 by 32% compared to 2019.
There were over 300,001 STI diagnoses last year (2020) while there were over 450,000 in 2019.
However, there was also a 25% fall in sexual health screens — tests for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis or HIV — which suggests that STI diagnoses overall in England remain high.
Overall, the number of sexual health consultations fell as clinics were forced to close their doors and many people remained in their homes. Consultation at sexual health services in 2020 decreased by 10% and face-to-face consultations fell by 35%.
However, the number of online consultations doubled from 2019 to 2020, from 511,979 to 1,062,157.
Sexual infections that require an in-person assessment, like genital warts and herpes, saw a greater drop in diagnoses falling by 46% and 40% respectively.
Other infections that require self-sampling kits and an internet consultation for diagnoses fell by less; chlamydia and gonorrhoea dropped by 29% and 20% respectively.
Consistent with previous years, the highest rates of STI diagnoses were found among those between 15 to 24 years, people of Black ethnicity; and gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.
Debbie Laycock, the head of policy at HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust, welcomed the ‘significant drop’ and said it was the ‘one unexpected good news story from the coronavirus pandemic’.
However also said: ‘The data clearly shows that this drop in STI diagnoses is primarily a result of a decline in testing and Covid-19-related behaviour change, rather than through concerted Government action to tackle consistently high rates. Many people having less sex during much of 2020 is also a factor.’
Dr Katy Sinka, the head of the sexually-transmitted infections section at PHE, said: ‘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.’
In July, it was announced that the National Chlamydia Screening Programme (NCSP) will focus testing on women only, because they are at higher risk of long-term complications from the infection.
Therefore pharmacies now only offer opportunistic chlamydia testing to women under 25, and not men.
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