Cases of sexually-transmitted gonorrhoea have increased by about a third each year since 2011, health chiefs have warned.
An outbreak control team has been appointed to monitor the rapid increase in cases in the east and south east of the country where the disease, which can cause infertility, is most common.
The major concern is the upsurge in the Dublin, Wicklow and Kildare region, where there were 817 cases recorded last year compared to 613 the previous year - an increase of 33%.
Health chiefs said the increase shows no sign of abating this year, with 1,077 cases recorded across the country.
Dr Margaret Fitzgerald, director of public health in the Health Service Executive east, said the increase in prevalence of the disease is a real cause for concern.
“This upsurge in gonorrhoea is a cause of concern, as untreated or inadequately treated gonorrhoea may lead to severe complications including infertility in men and women,” she said.
“Also, emerging antimicrobial resistance is a major concern with gonorrhoea and it is possible that multi-drug resistant gonorrhoea may become untreatable in the near future.”
Dr Fitzgerald said there were also concerns that the increase in the disease will also lead to an increase in HIV.
“We’re also concerned that infection with gonorrhoea may facilitate the transmission/acquisition of HIV, and because many cases are asymptomatic - approx 50% of women and 10% of men with urogenital gonorrhoea have no symptoms - many people may not be aware of their infection or risk,” she said.
The report on the increased levels of the disease coincides with improved testing for gonorrhoea in recent years and more being people checked.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) said last year that the rate of gonorrhoea infections is now 24.1 per 100,000 people, the highest rate ever recorded.
The pattern in Ireland mirrors that being seen in the UK.
The HSE said its enhanced monitoring team has identified two risk groups for gonorrhoea: young heterosexuals, who account for 44% of the total number of cases, and men who have sex with men.
Information campaigns are being launched over the next few weeks and into the new year to target the gay community and young sexually active people. The HSE will be working with Spunout.ie, the Union of Students in Ireland, the Dublin Aids Alliance and the THINK contraception campaign to promote safer sex.
Susan Donlon, Dublin AIDS Alliance, said: “The best available medicine for the control of the spread of gonorrhoea is to practice safer sex.”
The HSE campaign will also promote awareness including information that gonorrhoea may not show any signs or symptoms and that it can be contracted from oral sex.