Cases of syphilis reported in England have reached the highest level since 1949, according to new data on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) released Tuesday by Public Health England.
Syphilis made up 7,137 of the 422,147 cases of sexually transmitted infections in 2017, a 20% increase from the previous year and a 148% increase since 2008. According to the report, gonorrhea cases also increased by 22% to 46,676.
The rise in syphilis and gonorrhea cases in England was balanced out by a decrease in some other infections, including cases of genital warts, which declined 90% since 2009 among 15 to 17 year-olds – thanks to a national immunization program.
The total number of STI cases diagnosed by sexual health services in England in 2017 was around the same as 2016.
The report reflects a global rise in STIs over the last 10 years. In Australia, syphilis cases increased by 107% and gonorrhea increased by 63% between 2011 and 2016.
Sexually transmitted diseases also hit a record high in the US in 2016 with more than 2 million new cases of syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. Health officials pointed to funding deficits, which cause cutbacks for disease prevention and sex education programs.
The report said the increase in gonorrhea was particularly concerning given the recent emergence of a drug-resistant strain of the disease, which arrived in March after a UK man caught it in Southeast Asia.
Dr. Gwenda Hughes, head of the STI section at Public Health England, told CNN in March that the case was “the first time a case has displayed such high-level resistance to both of these drugs and to most other commonly used antibiotics.”
Researchers were also concerned by a decline in testing for chlamydia, which is the most common sexually transmitted infection; there were over 203,000 cases, making up almost half of all new STI diagnoses.
The report said that young heterosexual people aged 15-24 along with black ethnic minorities and LGBT men remain most at risk of STIs.
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Public Health England concluded their report with a call for stronger local and national prevention and care services, and more sexual health education in secondary schools. They also urged sexually active people to get tested regularly, especially the most vulnerable age and ethnic groups.
“Consistent and correct condom use with new and casual partners is the best defense against STIs, and if you are at risk, regular check-ups are essential to enable early diagnosis and treatment,” Dr Hughes said.