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Safe Sex Message Still A Priority

Safe Sex Message Still A Priority, Ministry Of Health Says

Media Release

31 May 2002

Safe sex message still a priority, Ministry of Health says

New sexually transmitted infection (STI) figures show many young New Zealanders are ignoring the message to use condoms when having sex, the Ministry of Health said today.

The STI annual surveillance report for 2001, released today by the Ministry, reveals that chlamydia infections -- the most common bacterial STI in New Zealand -- are still increasing and may soon overtake genital warts as the most common infection in sexual health clinic patients.

Most STI infections reported last year were in teenagers and young adults, with about two-thirds of gonorrhoea, chlamydia and genital warts cases in people aged 25 years or younger. Figures show young people were also more likely to be diagnosed with concurrent infections.

The report, prepared for the Ministry by the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), says New Zealand has high and increasing rates of bacterial STIs.

The rates for chlamydia are five times higher than those reported in Australia, while gonorrhoea rates are two times higher here than across the Tasman.

Report authors said the disproportionately high rates of bacterial STIs among young people, especially Maori and Pacific Islanders, was of particular concern.

A total of 3238 chlamydia infections and 533 gonorrhoea cases were reported last year by the country's 32 sexual health clinics.

Laboratories from the Auckland, Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions confirmed 8668 cases of chlamydia and 916 cases of gonorrhoea; family planning clinics reported 1135 cases of chlamydia and 209 of gonorrhoea, while student and youth health clinics recorded 304 and 24 cases respectively.

Ministry of Health senior public health advisor Alison Roberts said the STI figures were worrying, because they showed safe sex practices were not being followed by many young New Zealanders.

``We all have a responsibility to keep ourselves safe -- safe sex means using condoms for protection from sexually transmissible infections,'' Dr Roberts said.

``The figures show that young people in particular need to be mindful that infections are possible. They need to take basic precautions to keep themselves, and their sexual partners, safe.''

Dr Roberts said the Government had recognised there needed to be a much greater emphasis on sexual and reproductive health issues, which was why it promoted the development of the Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy, released last year.

The Ministry is working on action plans for the strategy, including ways to reduce the rates of STIs. These plans should be released in August.

Other key points in the report are:

The number of cases of genital herpes simplex virus (HSV) reported at sexual health clinics has been steadily dropping since 1996, with a 10 percent decrease between 2000 and 2001; Cases of genital herpes in 2001 were associated with European ethnicity and equally distributed between sexes. Genital warts is the most commonly diagnosed STI at sexual health clinics, with 3304 first diagnoses reported in 2001. For males and females, highest rates are found in the 20-24 year age group, with comparable rates across all ethnic groups; Groups at higher risk of an STI are: chlamydia -- Maori and Pacific people, and those younger than 25 years; gonorrhoea -- Maori and Pacific people, and males younger than 20; genital herpes -- Maori and Europeans in all age groups; genital warts -- all ethnic groups, and those younger than 25 years.


Surveillance of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) using sexual health clinic data

The Ministry of Health commissions the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) to undertake the surveillance of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This surveillance includes the collation of anonymised data on STIs diagnosed at all sexual health clinics in New Zealand. The latest report includes surveillance data from 32 sexual health clinics, as well as 35 Family Planning Association clinics and 21 student and youth health clinics.

For January to December 2001, all seven laboratories in the Waikato and Bay of Plenty, and all four laboratories in Auckland reported gonorrhoea and chlamydia data to ESR.

As sexual health clinic attendees are a self-selected population, the data may not truly predict patterns in the wider population. This surveillance information is useful for identifying trends in the population that attend sexual health clinics, and may provide an alert for changes that are occurring in the wider population

These figures underestimate the true incidence of STIs in New Zealand because many of these are asymptomatic. STI cases reported through the clinic-based surveillance system underestimate the true burden of the disease in New Zealand because a substantial percentage of STIs are diagnosed by other health providers, particularly general practitioners.

Surveillance data are collected on the following STIs:

Chlamydia (confirmed and probable) Gonorrhoea (confirmed and probable) Genital warts (1st diagnosis) Genital herpes (1st diagnosis) Syphilis Non-specific urethritis (NSU); males only Chancroid Granuloma inguinale (GI) Lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV)

The report is made public and circulated to health providers to raise awareness about the risk of sexually transmitted infections. It reinforces the need for health providers to diagnose, test for and treat STIs and for people to visit their doctor or sexual health clinic if they have concerns as diagnosis and early treatment are likely to decrease the risk of complications.

Facts on safe sex Safe sex means preventing blood or sexual fluid from passing between partners There are many ways to make sure sex is safe, including correct use of condoms and only having one sexual partner Safe sex is essential in controlling the spread of sexually transmitted infections Every sexually active person needs to take responsibility for their health and be aware of the risks of sexual activity and how they can make it safer Sexually transmitted infections can be symptomless and left untreated can lead to long term problems including infertility Partners also need to be tested and treated.

For further clarification on report facts contact: Dr Jose Ortega, Senior Epidemiologist ESR 04 914 0694


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