The HSE has set up an outbreak control team following an alarming rise in cases of gonorrhoea.
Recorded cases of the sexually transmitted disease have increased by about a third each year since 2011, health chiefs have warned.
Young heterosexuals and homosexual males are the two groups at highest risk of infection, according to the study, which was conducted by the HSE South East.
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 HSE East, said the rising 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.
“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 could 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 rising instances of the disease coincides with improved testing for gonorrhoea in recent years and more being people checked.
The Health Protection Surveillance Centre said last year the rate of gonorrhoea infections is now 24.1 per 100,000 people, the highest rate ever recorded.
The pattern in Ireland mirrors that in the UK, which has seen a 21% rise in the same length of time.
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 in the next few weeks and into the new year to target the gay community and young 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 practise safer sex.”
The campaign will highlight the fact that gonorrhoea may not show any signs or symptoms and that it can be contracted from oral sex.
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