HSE makes condom call after explosion of sexually transmitted infections in Mid West region

Photo: Schantalao / Freepik.

PUBLIC health officials today appealed to people in the Mid West to use condoms during sex, following an explosion of sexually transmitted disease in the region.

A spokesman for Public Health Mid West said the organisation was “concerned” after tallying “record levels of chlamydia and gonorrhoea” in Limerick, Clare, and north Tipperary.

“We are encouraging the public to use condoms and protect your sexual health and avail of free STI home testing at SH24.ie,” said the spokesman.

“We are experiencing unprecedented levels of chlamydia and gonorrhoea this year. If current trends persist, record levels of chlamydia are likely to be recorded by the end of the year.”

In 2022, Public Health HSE Mid West recorded the highest number of both chlamydia cases (798), and gonorrhoea (188) in the past 10 years. This year, so far, there have been 664 cases of chlamydia, and 274 cases of gonorrhoea.

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The incidents of STIs has grown in the region year on year since 2018, and last summer (2023), the HSE established its first ever Regional Sexual Health and Wellbeing Committee in the Mid West as a response to public health officials concerns.

According to figures provided by Public Health HSE Mid West, incidences of chlamydia have grown by 14 per cent between 2018 (578) and the year to date (664), while numbers of those reporting with gonorrhoea in the same period have jumped 153 per cent.

“Our key message is for people to use a condom correctly every time you have sex (oral, anal, vaginal); avoid sexual contact if you have symptoms of an STI; and to get tested if you have symptoms of an STI; and you should also get tested if your recent sexual partner(s) have an STI, or if you have new or multiple sexual partners,” Public Health MW stated.

It said the available free home test kit has accounted for nearly 40 per cent of all positive chlamydia cases in the Mid West so far this year.

Dr Kenneth Beatty, Specialist in Public Health Medicine, explained that the rise in STI infections was “an issue of public health concern” and that “chlamydia and gonorrhoea can lead to painful inflammatory diseases, which can lead to infertility”.

“An individual, behavioural response is needed to protect ourselves. Wearing a condom correctly and availing of frequent testing is the most practical way to prevent future infections and to protect your sexual partners,” said Dr Beatty.

Contraception is available to 17-30-year-old people and SH24 home test kits are free to all.

Dr Patrick O’Donnell, a GP and an associate professor of General Practice at University of Limerick, said that testing for STIs “is now even easier with the availability of the home testing programme” and that STIs “can be present for a period of time without a person realising it”.

“There are easy treatments and supports available to a person if they have been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection. If you need further advice you can speak to your GP, practice nurse, sexual health clinic, or go online at Sexualwellbeing.ie,” added Dr O’Donnell.