Young holidaymakers' risky sexual behaviour is fuelling a rise in sexually transmitted infections, research suggests.
Many people had unprotected intercourse while abroad
Dr Karen Rogstad from the Royal Hallamshire Hospital in Sheffield says many young people have unprotected sex with someone new while on holiday.
But few receive safe sex advice or screening for infections when they return, she said.
Her findings are reported in the British Medical Journal.
There were just over 1.5 million attendances to genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinics in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in 2002, a 15% increase on 2001, according to the Health Protection Agency.
Cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like chlamydia, syphilis, gonorrhoea and genital herpes are all on the rise.
Between 2000 and 2002, 69% of men in the UK who acquired HIV from heterosexual sex were infected while abroad.
A fifth of syphilis infections in heterosexual men are from sexual contacts abroad and 9% of people with gonorrhoea reported sex abroad in the preceding three months, said Dr Rogstad.
In two London GUM clinics, 12% of STIs were due to sex abroad.
One study of holidaymakers attending a GUM clinic within three months of their return home showed a quarter had slept with a new partner while away and two thirds had not used condoms or had used them haphazardly.
"Holidays are increasingly being taken abroad and in far flung locations, and the number of UK residents travelling abroad has increased by 27% since 1997," said Dr Rogstad.
She said with such high rates of travel and infection more widespread education about safe sex was vital.
"Preventative advice should be offered to all holidaymakers, particularly those going to the developing world," she said.
Promiscuity was greatest among young people, she found.
A study of holidaymakers in Tenerife showed 50% of people aged 25 and younger had had sex with someone new while on holiday, compared to 22% of those over 25.
"Young people should be encouraged to seek health screening on return from holiday," she said.
Jan Barlow, chief executive of Brook, said: "Holidays are a time when people are at greater risk of unprotected sex. That's associated with being away from home, being more relaxed, and is obviously linked with alcohol consumption as well.
"We would encourage people to be aware of the greater risks that they may face on holiday and to be prepared.
"That may be going along to young people's clinics and getting condoms and advice to get protection from infections and pregnancy for example," she said.
Dr David Hawkins, consultant physician at Chelsea and Westminster, said: "These findings are not surprising and are well known among people working in the field.
"Holidays are often the time when young people increase their levels of sexual experimentation.
"People need to be reminded that if they are having new partners the use of condoms will significantly reduce their risk of STIs," he said.
Were you given advice on sexual health before you went on holiday? And what kind of health care were you given on your return?
Here are some of your views:
If there were more clinics available that opened at more useful hours, perhaps young people would be able to receive more testing, information and advice?
I'm about to go to Thailand for a month so had to go to the doctor to be vaccinated against typhoid. I was given no advice regarding sexual health at while I was there - diarrhoea, sunstroke & malaria were all discussed, but there was no mention of HIV or any STIs.
Andrew, Edinburgh, Scotland
It's very easy to think that wearing a condom equals 'sex safe' - and that is relatively true for HIV etc - so wearing a condom *is* a must.
I just worry that we are not educated on the additional risks of casual sex. Some estimates put HPV infection as high as 70% of sexually active people - with most infected people oblivious to the fact that they have an STI.
It should be the responsibility of the traveller to make sure that they practise safe sex as I would presume they would whist at home in the UK. Going on holiday does not mean that you are also on holiday from the risk of STI.
Why anybody would risk unprotected sex on holiday is beyond me. The misconception that being on holiday somehow makes unprotected sex acceptable is ridiculous. More education is needed via the media, but people should show a certain level of common sense as well.
Daniel Watts, Birmingham
I went for a sexual health check recently and it took over two weeks to get my appointment. There is a real need for more clinics running at more convenient times to fit in with peoples busy lifestyles.