STI rise blamed on drink abuse

ALCOHOL abuse is leading to the sharp rise in sexually transmitted infections (STI), which are now at their highest-ever recorded level, Health Minister Mary Harney said yesterday.

The Tánaiste said over-consumption of alcohol was proving a major problem for the health services and GPs are reporting a serious increase in the numbers seeking morning-after contraception because of unsafe sex following drinking binges.

An 8% increase has been recorded in reported STIs in Ireland while there was a 10% increase in numbers diagnosed with HIV infection last year, according to the annual report of the National Disease Surveillance Centre (NDSC), published yesterday.

The NDSC had recommended the Department of Health consider making HIV a notifiable disease under law. Such a move would make it compulsory for health professionals to report diagnoses, while maintaining patient confidentiality, and would be likely to help reduce spread of the illness.

According to the study, more than 10,400 STIs were recorded between 2001 and 2002, with the most common being chlamydia, ano-genital warts and urethritis. Syphilis is also now well established in this country.

Over 61% of the STI infections were found in men and women in their 20s, with a further 12.2% found in those aged 19 and under.

NDSC director Darina Flanagan said: “The rise in cases is likely to be associated with an increase in unsafe sexual behaviour. But there is also anecdotal evidence that improved acceptability of STI services, greater public awareness of STIs and improvements in diagnostic tests is leading to more cases being reported.”

Over 42% of STI diagnoses were from the Eastern Regional Health Authority, 15.4% from the Southern Health Board, 11% from the Western Health Board, 8.7% from South Eastern Health Board, 6.1% from the North Western Health Board and less than 1% from the Midlands Health Board and North Eastern Health Board.

The report also revealed that a further 399 HIV cases were reported last year, bringing the country’s total to 3,408.

Up to 221 of the 399 newly diagnosed cases were heterosexuals with 75 cases among gay men and 47 among drug users.

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