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Sexually transmitted diseases in Ireland soar after Covid-19 controls lifted

There has been a 122pc increase in the number of notified cases of HIV

Case numbers of all five major STDs increased over the past 12 months. Stock photo


Ireland recorded an alarming 100pc-plus increase in the number of notified cases of HIV over the past year.

Doctors fear an explosion in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as people rush to re-embrace social lives after Covid-19 pandemic restrictions.

The latest Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) report revealed that case numbers of all five major STDs increased over the past 12 months – with all five now being notified at higher levels than in 2018, two years before the pandemic struck.

Most concerning was the 122pc increase in the notified cases of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) over the past year, with the numbers soaring from 400 in 2021 to 889 last year.

That total is also far above the HIV case numbers reported for 2018 (522).

All five of Ireland’s major STDs showed increased detections over the past 12 months, including chlamydia (10,954, up 52pc), gonorrhoea (4,075, up 94pc), herpes (1,619, up 24pc) and syphilis (895, up 25pc).

The five major STDs all reported case numbers higher than in 2018.

Over the past five years, the largest percentage increases reported were for HIV and syphilis, though chlamydia remains Ireland's most detected STD.

Gonorrhoea is Ireland's next most prevalent STD, with 4,075 cases notified last year.

Case numbers of sexually transmitted diseases had collapsed by between 16pc and 33pc across Ireland during the Covid-19 pandemic. Dramatic declines were recorded between 2020 and 2021.

Repeated lockdowns, social distancing, travel restrictions and the shutdown of major parts of social life dramatically slashed notifications of all major STDs. Doctors also believed an increased awareness of personal health and protection measures helped reduce transmissions.

Temple Bar in Dublin during lockdown. Numbers of STDs dropped while people were not socialising. Photo: Getty© Getty Images

However, concern was expressed over the long-term impact of apparently higher levels of alcohol consumption at home during the lockdown. 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 compared with the rest of the year.

Over recent years, sexual health centres have expanded their screening hours and 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.

The increase in case numbers came despite major public health awareness campaigns including an increased focus on sexual health issues among young people.

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