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Monday, 21 January, 2002, 07:03 GMT
Concerns over sex disease ignorance
Unprotected sex has led to an increase in chlamydia
A sexual health expert has voiced concerns over what she calls a "dramatic rise" in a sexually transmitted disease (STD) in north east Wales.

Doctor Olwen Williams is a genito-urinary physician and specialises in the promotion of sexual health.

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Dr Williams said she has witnessed a significant increase in the number of cases of chlamydia during her work at the Wrexham Maelor and Glan Clwyd hospital.

Chlamydia is a bacterial STD and is sometimes called the "silent epidemic" because it can be relatively symptomless, but can damage a woman's fertility if left untreated.

Dr Williams said: "We have pretty bad chlamydia figures, I'm certainly seeing a 25% rise in chlamydia over the last year with something like a 200% rise over the past few years."

Some students at Yale College in Wrexham were unclear exactly what the disease was.

David Webster and Steven Davies, both 16, had confused opinions on the symptoms of the infection.

David Webster and Steven Davies
David and Steven: "causes infertility"

"I know it's a sexually transmitted disease and it can cause impotency and infertility in women," said Mr Webster.

Mr Davies added: "I just know its a sexually transmitted disease and it causes a rash."

Recent statistics have also suggested that both girls and boys are starting to have sex at a much earlier age than in previous decades.

Dr Williams confirmed the findings: "We do know the age of first sexual intercourse has been dropping dramatically.

Sexually active

"I see girls 13,14,15 on a regular basis coming through my clinics who have been sexually active for two or three years by the time they get to us."

Compared to the rest of the UK, Wales has a higher rate of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections have also risen by 57% in the past 10 years.

According to Dr Williams, around 685 people have been diagnosed with HIV in Wales compared with nearly 48,000 in the UK as a whole.

The consultant believes there are issues which now need to be urgently addressed.

She said: "Doing a lot more education around sexual health in schools is very important.

Dr Olwen Williams
Dr Williams: We are all at risk

"If you educate young people to educate their peer group then you can actually see results."

Making condoms widely available and improving education are two of the schemes which have been highlighted in the North Wales Health Authority's sexual health strategy.

Experts had discussed installing condom machines inside school toilets but the local Health Authority have said it is not a priority.

However, it is hoped the contraceptive will be made available at further education colleges.

Dr Williams believes condoms should be made more available: "I think it's very embarrassing for a young lad to go into his local chemist where his mum goes, to actually ask for condoms."

But the doctor admitted that contraceptives can be a difficult subject.

"What people are worried about is that if you increase access to things like condoms that people are going to have more sex but there's no proof in that at all," Dr Williams said.

Money has also been made available for community education centres, to promote sexual health awareness.

Sarah Andrews, the training manager for the Family Planning Association in Wales said youngsters should be encouraged to visit sex education centres and clinics.

"Young people should be praised and welcomed rather than shouted at," she argued.

"Campaigns aren't necessarily the best way of addressing the issue, improving education and improving services is the way forward."

Dr Williams believes there are many misconceptions surrounding STDs.

"A lot of people think that nice people don't catch infections.

She added: "Anyone who has unprotected sex at any age runs the risk of catching a sexually transmitted infection and it is a sad thing to admit, but we are all at risk."

Pupils at Yale College, Wrexham
Students give their reaction to chlamydia
BBC Wales's Joanne Hughes
"Dr Olwen Williams says she is now seeing more patients than ever suffering from chlamydia"

More news from north east Wales
See also:

20 Nov 01 | England
Game to teach sex education
13 Jun 01 | Health
Teenage toll of sex disease
24 Oct 00 | Health
Parents 'ignoring sex education'
20 Sep 00 | Health
Sex disease checks - by post
30 Jun 01 | Health
Condoms plan for schools
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