Gonorrhoea, chlamydia rates surging
Health experts are calling for a sex education revolution to help stem what is being described as an epidemic of sexually transmitted infections sweeping the nation.
New gonorrhoea diagnoses jumped by 25 per cent over 2009 levels to 10,000 last year, while there were more than 74,000 new chlamydia cases, according to figures to be issued at an Australasian HIV/AIDS Conference in Canberra today.
There have already been 102 gonorrhea cases reported in the ACT this year, up from 56 cases for the whole of last year.
Since January, there have been 927 chlamydia diagnoses in Canberra, compared to 1157 in 2010.
Nationally, there were 1043 diagnoses of HIV in 2010, including a dozen in the ACT.
Public health experts said many sexually active young people born after the AIDS education campaigns of the 1980s were failing to use condoms.
Associate Professor David Wilson, head of the public health surveillance and evaluation program at the Kirby Institute, said the current generation of teenagers and young adults tended to change sexual partners more frequently than previous generations had.
''It's likely due to young people having unsafe sex, not using condoms as frequently as what they used to. It could also be changes in partnership, partners changing more frequently,'' he said.
''In any case we are seeing an epidemic that's occurring and it's occurring nationwide.''
Associate Professor Wilson said large-scale population health education and programs on sexually transmitted infections were needed.
''We do need some large-scale population health education and prevention programs,'' he said.
''And these programs need to be targeted to the particular infections and to the population groups right across the country.''
HIV diagnoses have remained relatively stable in Australia over the past five years at about 1000 a year.
Chlamydia - which often has no obvious symptoms - can lead to infertility in women if left untreated.
It was the most common notifiable infection in Australia last year and was more common in young heterosexual people.
Rates of chlamydia were three times higher among indigenous Australians than in non-indigenous people in major cities.
Gonorrhea was most common among men who had sex with other men. Research to be issued at the conference showed that the majority of sexually active gay men used condoms. But 37 per cent of gay men with casual partners in 2010 had unprotected sex.
The increased integration of gay men into mainstream society was making it more challenging for health groups to deliver information on safe sex to this group.
Australian Federation of AIDS organisations executive director Rob Lake said Australia should introduce HIV testing which could deliver initial results within an hour.
Mr Lake said this would help encourage young sexually active gay men to undergo regular testing.
''Our whole point is to make it easier and to help people make a good routine,'' he said.