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The rise in STIs
In the last few years, Ireland has fallen victim to a silent sexual disease epidemic. More people than ever are becoming infected with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and health boards are rapidly reviewing and expanding their STI clinics to cope with the ever-increasing demand.
Figures for sexually transmitted infections are gathered by the National Disease Surveillance Centre, and the statistics for last year reveal just how prevalent such diseases have become in Ireland today. Over 7,200 people were found to be infected with some form of STI other than HIV last year, of whom less than half were in the greater Dublin area.
The most common complaint was anal or genital warts, which was found in over 3,000 people. A further 1,300 people were treated for urethritis, a micro-organism based infection that causes burning pain when passing urine. Genital warts are caused by the HPV (human papilloma virus) virus, which has been implicated in helping to cause cervical cancer. Over 1,000 people were treated for chlamydia, which can cause infertility if not caught in time.
Alcohol or illicit drugs are usually involved when people catch an STI - they lower inhibitions and cloud one's ability to judge safe sexual activity from irresponsible sex.
While the most serious STI infections were relatively uncommon, they still showed a sharp rise on previous years. More than 200 people were found to be suffering from gonorrhoea, known colloquially as the 'clap' and 35 people were treated for syphilis, which was all but eradicated only a few years ago.
In the mid-Western Health Board area, there has been a huge increase in both the number of people attending an STD clinic and also the number of people diagnosed with an infection. Last year, over 5,600 people attended for STI treatment in the region, compared with under 1,400 in 1995. The director of the STD clinic at the Mid-Western Regional Hospital in Limerick, Dr Catherine O'Connor, reported that this year has seen an increase in positive diagnoses of 40% on 2000.
Ireland's most common sexually transmitted disease - genital warts. Over 3,000 were diagnosed last year alone. They can be treated, but they are always likely to return as there is no cure.
Dr O'Connor is particularly concerned about the rapid rise in chlamydia among women in the area. Known as the 'silent infection' because half of infected men and 80% of infected women experience no symptoms, the bacterial infection can lead to a raft of serious difficulties. Chlamydia is simply treated with a course of antibiotics, but can cause prostatitis in men and ectopic pregnancy in women if left untreated.
"The chance of a patient becoming infertile is increased by 13% following a first episode of chlamydia, with the percentage rising to 75% for a third and subsequent episode", Dr O'Connor explained. She is now heading a study to examine the prevalence of the disease in Limerick, Clare and Tipperary, the first such study undertaken in Ireland. With the co-operation of GPs from the region, she hopes to establish the true extent of the disease in the mid-Wes, and use the information to develop programmes to tackle its spread.
The Mid-Western region has also seen an alarming rise in the incidence of genital warts. New research also suggests that there may be a link between chlamydia and cervical cancer too.
Rise in female cases
People in the North West can avail of STI services at Altnagelvin hospital in Derry as well as a clinic at Sligo General hospital. The region's clinics saw a 17% increase in the number of people attending, a rise similar to that seen throughout the country. Of particular concern in the region is the fact that most attendees at the area's clinics last year were women (55%) and the majority were young - one in five were teenagers. The NWHB is now undergoing a review and expansion of its STI service in the hope that the message of safer sex can be got across better to young women in particular.
The Southern Health Board was the first health board to appoint a sexual health promotion officer as part of its health promotion strategy, but the safer sex message continues to fall largely on deaf ears. In the SHB area the rise in STIs led last summer to a second clinic opening at Tralee General Hospital to complement the work of the existing clinic at Cork's Victoria hospital.
The SHB clinics report a year on year rise of attendances going back to 1995. Over 5,000 patients were seen in the region last year, a figure set to be greatly exceeded this year, the first full year that the Tralee clinic has been in operation. Special attention in the region is being paid to HIV/AIDS, which is becoming increasingly prevalent in urban areas. Last year maternity hospitals in the area introduced an antenatal HIV screening service because of the increasing numbers of pregnant women who were infected with the virus.
A pubic lice clinging to a hair.
So what can actually be done to counter this tide of sexually transmitted disease? Quite rightly, healthcare workers see it as preventable. Sexually transmitted diseases are the price we pay for being irresponsible when we are sexually active. Sexually transmitted infections are passed from person to person during sexual activity, when the bacteria or virus that contains the bears the disease is transferred from one partner to the other in blood, semen or other body fluids.
STIs are sexually transmittable only - all the misplaced fear in the 1980s over getting AIDS from toilet seats or swimming pools is equally ridiculous when applied to any other STI. They are transmitted by any sexual contact, whether oral, anal or vaginal, that does not involve barrier protection.
The pill might help if avoiding pregnancy is your aim, but it is of no use whatsoever in blocking the transmission of an STI. Only condoms have been demonstrated to prevent the spread of STIs during sexual contact. It is likely that most health boards will now invest in more public health information about safer sex, in the hope that more people will use condoms when they go to bed with a partner. Currently, given the numbers pouring through STI clinic doors, it seems that even the fear of catching AIDS (also on the rise) has not stopped people from having unsafe sex.
HIV/AIDS is undoubtedly the most serious of all STIs, as it remains incurable. HIV/AIDS can, however, be treated with antiretroviral medications and HIV positive people can live lengthy and relatively healthy lives today. Other STIs do not pose the same degree of threat to personal health, but that does not mean that they cannot cause both pain and embarrassment, not to mention long-term health problems.
Syphilis, for example, can actually lead to both insanity and death if left untreated for a long period of time, whereas herpes, once caught, never fully goes away. There is currently an outbreak of this once historical illness in Ireland, predominantly among gay men, though heterosexuals have also been affected.
Second degree syphilis causes unsightly lesions on the body.
Other STIs can cause damage to reproductive organs, affecting one's ability to have children at a later date. Infertility, ectopic pregnancy, chronic pelvic infections and infections in newborns are only some of the possible complications that can arise if an STI is left untreated.
Of course, abstaining from sex is the only guaranteed method for avoiding infection with an STI. However, by practising safer sex, you can cut the risk of becoming infected. Anyone who is sexually active and not in a monogamous, strictly faithful relationship, can become infected. Using condoms that prevent the sharing of body fluids cuts down the likelihood of cross-infection, but occasionally they do fail during use.
Equally, the more irresponsible one behaves sexually, the greater the chance of becoming infected. Sleeping with a new partner is like sleeping with everyone they have ever slept with. Unprotected sex with a variety of partners will not only inevitably lead to an infection at some stage, but also leaves one at great risk of contracting HIV. Unfortunately, most STIs are not as immediately evident as, for example, the measles. In fact, a person can be infected with some STIs for a matter of weeks without experiencing a single symptom.
It is not possible to judge whether a person is infected with an STI by sight - it requires medical testing, which is why it is safest to take precautions when having sex. Your lover may not even know themselves if they have an infection. As it can be difficult to detect an STI infection sometimes, it is important to act whenever an obvious symptom does develop. You should attend your GP or local STI clinic if you ever notice:
Last Reviewed: 31st August 2001
|Anonymous Posted: 05/09/2001 09:01|
|I think this article gives a misleading sense of security regarding the 'safety' from many STIs provided by condoms. The following press release from The Medical Institute for Sexual Health (Austin, Texas) explains more, particularly with regard to genital warts in women. ***** Thursday July 19, 6:08 pm Eastern Time Press Release SOURCE: The Medical Institute for Sexual Health NIH Panel on Condoms Offers Crucial Warnings to Sexually Active Americans July 19 /PRNewswire/ -- ``The National Institutes for Health report on the effectiveness of condoms reveals that condoms are not a reliable defense against today's epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases,'' said Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., MD, president of The Medical Institute for Sexual Health. He was referring to the groundbreaking NIH report scheduled for release tomorrow but reported in today's press coverage. ``America's youth have been lulled into a false sense of security about pre-marital sexual activity, believing that, as long as they use a condom, they are protected from sexually transmitted diseases. As the NIH report makes clear, there is no such thing as safe sex outside of marriage.'' Among the very important revelations to be found in the NIH report, Dr.McIlhaney noted: * Condoms can reduce the risk of HIV by approximately 87% if they are used 100% of the time. * Condoms can reduce the risk of gonorrhea in men, and may or may not reduce the risk of chlamydia in men. (Chlamydia is an STD that is a common cause of infertility in women and is common in sexually active adolescents.) * The studies reviewed consistently reported that condoms had no impact on the risk of sexual transmission of human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in women, which is responsible for more than 98 percent of cervical cancers. * There is no clear evidence that condoms reduce the risk of any other STD, including gonorrhea and chlamydia in women and HPV infection in men. ``We are in the midst of an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases,'' continued Dr. McIlhaney. ``Approximately 15 million Americans acquire STDs each year. 25 percent are younger than 20. Some STDs are deadly. Others contribute to infertility and cancer.'' ``What this report tells us about the effectiveness of condoms and about our public health approach to STDs must be widely and loudly communicated to our young people. Ultimately, they must understand that there is only way to avoid the risk of contracting one of the approximately 25 STDs in existence today -- that is sex within the context of marriage.'' A non-profit medical organization based in Austin, Texas, The Medical Institute was founded in 1992 to confront the worldwide epidemics of nonmarital pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection with incisive health care data. SOURCE: The Medical Institute for Sexual Health|
|Anonymous Posted: 05/09/2001 11:25|
|The price and availability of condoms in this country is still allowing people (esp. younger ones) to take unnecessary risks. Why not have free condoms at clinics or clubs? It's cheaper than treating STD epidemics for the government. It's about time Health Boards were proactive|
|Anonymous Posted: 24/10/2001 19:33|
|i believe the increase in these diseases is because of the whole attitude towards sex and is not just tied to the use or misuse of condoms. the attitude has changed so much in the last number of years. it is scary!! society is not going forwards but are returning to the way of the animal kingdom, what happened to evolution? sex is now seen as something to be done each time one goes out and it doesn't matter with who or what!! i don't know what happened to the proper reasons for sex i.e. to connect with someone you love in the highest way possible. its no wonder these diseases are so prevalent. i agree with the previous comment about the only way to protect yourself is not to have sex outside of a loving relationship!!|
|Anonymous Posted: 05/01/2002 01:11|
|It is time to say NO to sex outside marriage - a stable relationship with one person, need I say man with woman.!|
|Anonymous Posted: 13/02/2002 09:01|
|To the person who said "It is time to say NO to sex outside marriage - a stable relationship with one person, need I say man with woman.!". I agree if fact I would go further sex should only be undertaken between the aforementioned man and woman for the procreation of a child. Under no circumstances should any form of contraception be used. And a woman's place is in the home as a mother to her children. Oh by the way I'm being sarcastic, but then I presume that I'm not the only one here :-) Bring back the death penalty!! On a more serious note (and dealing with the real world) I would agree that some sort of program should be implemented so that those most a risk can obtain free condoms. I consider this topic to be a bit similar to smoking. Both are “enjoyable” to people but carry significant risks and despite large amounts of education to the contrary will be practiced by those people. However where they differ is that whereby smoking you a paying money to exercise these risks, with casual sex you are not. In fact it is going to cost you if you are sensible and provide protection. For the young and those most at risk this can lead to the wrong path being taken.|
|Anonymous Posted: 20/02/2002 11:16|
|all i can say is that people are acting more and more like animals; they seem to be unable to control their sexual urges and have sex with whoever will have them no matter how many!! its bloody ridiculous, they will regret it when they meet someone they really love and want to have kids and find out they are sterile from suffering from STI's or that they will soon die from AID's. adolescents as young as 13 are going out and having sex with anyone they can get their hands on-i think something shoud be done about the attitude as condoms are not as safe as people think although it is safer then nothing at all!!|
|Anonymous Posted: 02/04/2002 14:52|
|There are plenty of people who are in what they consider to be monogmous relationships, but their partner is sleeping around and passing diseases back to the faithful partner. Because this partner doesn\'t consider themselves in a high-risk category, they don\'t get tested. How does one deal with this situation?|
|Anonymous Posted: 11/02/2003 10:17|
|i was watching some stats that the irish goverment was showing on >the news a week or so ago about underage people having sexual >diseases for not using condoms. well when u do nothing about >the price of bying condoms.what do u exspect. the price to buy >them in shop or in vending machine for 3 is 4euro.which is very >expensive.a)they should be about 50c each.like i have seen in >Canada and other countries and b)u should post a packet to >every male in ireland.this is someways to reduce it.the more >expensive they are. the more people willrefuse buying them as >they are 2 expensive.|
|Paul(arkauten) Posted: 08/03/2003 22:39|
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|Anonymous Posted: 02/04/2005 13:05|
|Can prostrate problemsin men cause any STD Diseases to their spouse?|
|Anonymous Posted: 05/09/2005 15:16|
|Neither my wife nor I have had any other sexual partner for over 10 years. My wife has just been told she has genital warts. From her reaction (and knowing her for so many years) I know she hasn't had sex with anyone else. Here's the thing, neither have I. I've never had any problems in this area or with other STDs, as far as I know neither has my wife. My wife did receive laser treatment for (pre)cancerous cervix growths some time ago. My GP said this could be contributory. Can anyone shed light on this. Our GP claims that this virus (NPV) can only last two years. I have heard it can hang around for a lot longer.|
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