Xmas party season threatens STI boom as gonorrhoea and syphilis levels soar

Brits hooking up at Christmas parties could trigger an STI boom just in time for the festive period, experts have warned.

Cases of gonorrhoea and syphilis are already at record highs, and with plenty of us looking forward to eating, drinking and being merry over the next few weeks, a perfect storm is brewing for those levels to skyrocket. The UK's Health Security Agency (UKHSA) found gonorrhoea diagnoses had already increased by 50.3% in one year from 54,961 in 2021 to 82,592 in 2022 – the highest number of cases since records began in 1918.

Similarly, syphilis infections rose in 2022 to their highest levels since just after World War Two to 8,692. While increased testing is partly to blame for the spike, UKHSA reckons the two serious diseases are on the rise.

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This is particularly concerning as a new survey of 2,000 office workers in the UK found around one in five had had sex with a colleague at their office Christmas party. Shockingly, more than one in 10 of those said they contracted a sexually transmitted infection following the romp.

But though the figures are staggering, the same survey found just 14% of men and six percent of women planned to carry a condom – the best defence against transmission – during the festive period. The data, collected by Censuswide on behalf of Your Sexual Health, suggests some workers could be getting a rather unpleasant extra present this year.

GP Dr Rashid Bani called the findings "hugely concerning." He said: "With many people letting their hair down in December, we usually see a clear spike in people looking for sexual health testing in the New Year and throughout January."

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"Considering gonorrhoea and syphilis saw record levels this year, we’re more than likely to see a huge rise in positive test results. STIs aren’t just an inconvenience – they can have a major impact on your health and that of any sexual partners."

Dr Bani added Brits should exercise caution by wrapping up this winter. If you've had unprotected sex, he said it's important to get a test to stop the spread of disease.

"Condoms are the best defence, but if you didn’t use one the last time you had sex with a new or casual partner, get tested to detect any potential infections early and prevent passing them on to others," he added. "Testing is important because you may not have any symptoms of an STI."

According to the NHS, the early symptoms of gonorrhoea include thick green or yellow discharge from the vagina or penis, pain while peeing, and bleeding between periods for women. However, about a tenth of men and nearly half of women with the disease don't have any symptoms.

It can take about three weeks for the symptoms of syphilis to appear. Once they do, sufferers can experience ulcers, which are usually painless, on their genitals or around the anus. These sores can also be seen inside the mouth, on the lips and hands and the bottom.

White or grey warty growths most commonly on the penis, vagina or around the anus are also indications of an infection, as is a rash on the palms of your hands and feet which can sometimes spread all over the body. White patches in your mouth, swollen glands, patchy hair loss and flu-like symptoms are also signs to watch out for.

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