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Friday, 18 February, 2000, 00:54 GMT
Gonorrhoea rates rise by 35%

condoms Reduced condom use could be to blame for rise


The number of cases of gonorrhoea - the second most common sexually-transmitted disease - has risen dramatically in London, research shows.

An alarming 35% rise was recorded in the capital's genitourinary medicine clinics between 1997 and 1999, and the number of cases was up for both men and women.


Gonorrhoea is the second most common sexually-transmitted bacterial infection in England and Wales, therefore any increase in cases of this magnitude should be of concern
Dr Catherine Ison
The rise is particularly worrying, say the researchers at the Imperial College School of Medicine, because rates had previously been falling after gonorrhoea was targeted as a key area under a government health strategy announced in 1992.

Gonorrhoea, a painful and unpleasant infection of the genitals and sometimes the anus, can prove fatal if untreated.

It is usually passed between partners during penetrative sex. It is possible to be infected but not see any symptoms.

If left untreated gonorrhoea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease in women which can cause infertility or ectopic pregnancy, where the baby begins to grow in the fallopian tubes, not the womb.

In men, gonorrhoea can cause inflammation of the testicles and the prostate gland, which causes pain. Without treatment the urethra may become narrower.

Increase

Dr Catherine Ison and her team at Imperial College looked at rates in 13 of the GUM clinics in the London area and found an increase in cases in all types of patients.

For women the most common age group for cases (33%) was the 16-19 years age group, while in men 44% of all cases were in the 25-34 years age group, reported The Lancet medical journal.

The total number of cases recorded at 10 London hospitals rose from 1,155 in the last quarter of 1997 to 1,559 for the same period in 1999.

Dr Ison, a reader in medical microbiology, said: "Gonorrhoea is the second most common sexually-transmitted bacterial infection in England and Wales, therefore any increase in cases of this magnitude should be of concern.

"We have no direct evidence for why it is rising at the moment. It could be changes in sexual behaviour or changes in the bacteria which cause the infection, or a combination of the two."

Worrying

The results of the study would be particularly worrying if they pointed to a return to the dramatic rises of the mid-1980s, she said.

And she added that money needed to be put into monitoring the disease and educating people.

Dr Ison is a member of the London Gonococcal Working Group, set up in 1997 to monitor the susceptibility of the disease to antibiotics and to prepare guidance on good practice for treatment.

Dr Gary Brook, a consultant in GU Medicine at Central Middlesex Hospital, in London, said: "Gonorrhoea cases fell initially because of the safe sex message around HIV, but now that safe sex message seems to have got lost somewhere.

"People are having more unprotected sex, leading to rising rates of gonorrhoea."

Penicillin was now no longer used to treat the disease in London because patients have built up resistance, but "more worryingly", broad spectrum antibiotics, such as ciprofloxacin, are also becoming less effective, he said.

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See also:
29 Nov 98 |  Health
Sex diseases up among young
14 May 99 |  Health
Sexual risk to Britain's teenagers
16 Jun 98 |  Latest News
Sex disease epidemic poses huge threat

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