Dramatic decrease | 

Case numbers of STDs fell by up to 33pc in first year of pandemic

All five of Ireland's major STDs – syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes and HIV – showed reduced new case notification numbers between 2019 and 2020
Stock photo

Stock photo

Ralph Riegel

Instances of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) collapsed by between 16pc and 33pc across Ireland during the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Startling new statistics from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) revealed the annual notification numbers of some STDs have fallen by remarkable levels of up to one-third due to the impact on society and social activity of the various pandemic control measures.

All five of Ireland's major STDs – syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes and HIV – showed reduced new case notification numbers between 2019 and 2020.

Repeated lockdowns, social distancing, travel restrictions and the shutdown of major parts of Irish social life have dramatically slashed notifications of all major STDs.

Health experts have been carefully monitoring infectious disease statistics to determine the precise impact of the lockdowns on Ireland's public health beyond Covid-19 case numbers.

Experts wanted to determine if the closure of nightclubs, pubs and festivals and all forms of major social gatherings would inevitably have an impact on overall infectious disease rates but particularly STDs.

Enhanced individual health consciousness because of Covid-19 was also expected to help prevent the further spread of other diseases and infections.

However, a major negative noted was the anecdotal evidence of significant increases in alcohol consumption since early 2020 and an increased number of house parties.

It is still unclear whether, because of the pandemic, people may have delayed seeking medical advice for symptoms of illnesses such as STDs.

HPSC figures to December 31, 2020 revealed dramatic reductions in the number of STD notification numbers between 2019 and 2020.

The number of cases of gonorrhea fell from 2812 in 2019 to 2066 in 2020, a decline of just under 27pc.

However, the greatest percentage decline was in herpes, which fell by almost 33pc, reducing from 1,691 notifications in 2019 to 1,133 notifications in 2020.

Ireland recorded 535 cases of HIV in 2019 – but that fell to 449 in 2020, a decline of 16pc.

Chlamydia remains, by overall detection numbers, Ireland's dominant STD.

There were 9,174 cases of chlamydia in 2019 but that had fallen to 6,936 cases in 2020.

Major concern has focused on syphilis over recent years, given a worrying increase in the number of cases presenting to doctors in Ireland.

In 2019, there were 782 cases of syphilis confirmed in Ireland – but that fell to 599 cases in 2020, a drop of 24pc.

However, while there was a welcome decline in the number of cases, the 2020 figure was still higher than the number of notifications in 2015 (420) and more than double the figure for a decade before.

Syphilis historically ranked one of the most feared sexually transmitted infections.

One Irish hospital, according to a medical source, dealt with a case of syphilis a number of years ago which had reached its tertiary or final stage with severe medical issues for the patient involved.

The traditional spike in STD detection rates occurs between January and March, after the Christmas party season.

In some cases, the rate of STD detection and treatment is double in January and February what it is for the rest of the year.

However, experts believe Covid-19 will have a significant impact on STD case trends for several years to come.

Over recent years, sexual health centres expanded their screening hours and have urged people concerned about possible infections to get checked as soon as possible.

Public health experts warned that early detection is the key to more effective treatment and the avoidance of potentially serious long-term health consequences.

Experts said it will be interesting to see if the figures for last year repeats the trend evident in the 2020 case statistics.

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