WHILE enjoying the festive period, remember to practice safe sex and avoid getting a gift you won’t forget – that is the message from the Public Health Agency (PHA).
The PHA is reminding those who are sexually active to protect your sexual health, and that of your partner, by being safe and using condoms. The most recent figures for Northern Ireland (2011) show that while new sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnoses decreased slightly by 2% compared with the previous year, new HIV diagnoses rose by 3%, (from 80 new cases in 2010 to 82 new cases in 2011).
The number of people living with HIV infection increased by 10% compared with 2010 (from 474 to 522 people). Of those receiving care for HIV, 97% (506 people) acquired their infection through sexual contact.
Dr Bernadette Cullen, Consultant in Public Health, PHA, said: “We want to remind sexually active people of the dangers of HIV and STIs, and the importance of safer sex practices, particularly during the festive period and perhaps while people are in a more relaxed mood.
“Untreated STIs can result in serious health issues such as infertility. While it may be thought that young people and men who have sex with men (MSM) are particularly at risk, the safer sex message applies to everyone.
“We know people may be infected with HIV and STIs without having any symptoms, so it is important to protect yourself and to stop the spread of infection to others. Use condoms, limit the number of sexual partners, and get checked at your GP surgery or your local Genito Urinary Medicine (GUM) clinic if you have put yourself at risk.”
For information or advice on STIs, or to discuss any sexual health issue, contact your local GUM clinic or your GP.
You can also download the PHA booklet Don’t gamble with your sexual health from http://www.publichealth.