Today, the Kirby Institute at UNSW Sydney released their Annual Surveillance Report on HIV, viral hepatitis and STIs in Australia. Statistics contained in the report suggest that, although some of the most serious sexually-transmitted conditions like HIV remain at stable levels compared to previous years, there has been a disproportionate rise in the transmission of STIs like gonorrhoea.
The newest data shows that gonorrhoea has risen 63 per cent in Australia from 2012 to 2016, with the amount of cases rising from 62 per 100,000 to 101 per 100,000 Australians. The report found that men are more likely to be infected. The increase in gonorrhoea in males was 72 per cent, while females had a 43 per cent increase in diagnoses.
The increased diagnoses were most notable among young, heterosexual individuals living in major cities.
“Up until recently, gonorrhoea had been uncommon in young heterosexual people living in major cities,” said Associate Professor Rebecca Guy, head of the Surveillance, Evaluation and Research Program at the Kirby Institute.
“Rising rates in this group highlight the need for initiatives to raise awareness among clinicians and young people about the importance of testing. With the national strategies for HIV, hepatitis and STIs up for review, reducing STIs in young people will be an important target,” she said.
While gonorrhoea is on the rise, it is not the only area of concern for this age group. Chlamydia was the most frequently diagnosed sexually transmitted infection in Australia. There were a total of 71,751 notifications of this STI in 2016 with 75 per cent of those cases occurring among people aged 15 to 29 years of age.
In a hopeful twist, the study found that the number of diagnosed HIV cases in Australia has remained stable over the past five years, with roughly 1,000 new cases diagnosed each year.
Unlike many other sexually-transmitted diseases, HIV has been the target of a wide range of public awareness campaigns with considerable resources dedicated to reducing the communicability of the life-threatening virus in recent years.
A recent focus on preventative measures to avoid contracting HIV, rather than simply treating the infection itself, has been attributed to keeping transmission rates at existing levels.
In addition, the study found that 30,434 Australians were cured of hepatitis C last year.
“The new therapies have been game-changing for hepatitis C in Australia”, said Associate Professor Jason Grebely from the Viral Hepatitis Clinical Research Program at the Kirby Institute.
“Our estimates indicate that the number of people with hepatitis C who have advanced liver disease has fallen for the first time in 10 years. This is excellent news, but to achieve hepatitis C elimination in Australia we must sustain our efforts to ensure all people living with hepatitis C are tested and have access to these cures,” he said.
Only 14 per cent of the estimated 227,306 Australians diagnosed with hepatitis C received treatment last year, with 93 per cent of those treated managing to recover with a positive prognosis moving forward. This is hopeful news for people living with hepatitis C, suggesting that as the availability of treatment increases, so too will the likelihood that those battling the condition will make full recoveries.
That said, it is clear that prevention is key in the battle against sexually-transmitted illnesses. Whilst the treatment options for those diagnosed with conditions like HIV and hepatitis C may be improving, all medical advice is to take every step possible to avoid contracting an STI in the first place.