Sexually transmitted infections in Australia: 10 times higher than 5 years ago

STI in Australia

The World Health Organization has recently expressed concerns about increased incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) worldwide. The agency, from his headquarters in Geneva, has explained that “on average, approximately one in 25 people globally have at least one of these STD”. WHO also added that everyday one million people catch a sexually transmitted infection around the globe.

These are issues which concerns the medical community even here in Australia. The data report about sexually transmissible infections strategy issued by the government of New South Wales for 2018 showed a continual rising numbers of gonorrhoea and syphilis. The Australian Department of Health is still working to address the ongoing outbreak of infectious syphilis that’s hitting the young (19 – 29 years old ) aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population in northern, central and southern Australia.

STI in Australia

Overall, the Kirby Institute of Sidney in his annual report noted a rise in Gonorrhoea, Syphilis and Chlamydia all across Australian continent, pointing to the fact that there’s a slightly increase in incidence among heterosexual men and women and young people.

Conversely there has been a reduction in incidence of papilloma virus related STDs among young people thanks to vaccination program started in 2007 and new HIV infections are decreased in the last five years.

The National Immunisation Program (NIP) provides for free the HPV (Human papilloma virus) vaccine to adolescent boys aged 12 – 13 years. In the state of Victoria, the government provide free of charge HPV vaccine to MSM (males who have sex with males) individuals until their 26 birthday if they missed the school aged vaccination program.

The decrease in HIV transmission is a direct consequence of active policies of Australian Government and health authorities. Most notably the inclusion of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which subsidises the availability of otherwise cost-prohibitive (10000 $ for one year cure) pills that can prevent HIV infection. PrEP consists of a daily pill that is 99% effective at preventing HIV transmission. Facilitating the access to people with high risk of getting HIV, by medical prescription, government has been very successful in preventing new cases of HIV in Australia.

Even Hepatitis C and Hepatitis B are declining, the former benefited a reduction of diffusion among the Australian population due to new cures available by healthcare system and the latter thanks to the vaccination of infants available from 2000.

While HIV, HPV and Hepatitis remains fearsome sexually transmitted diseases the major healthcare problem for Australian society remains Gonorrhoea, Chlamydia and Syphilis whose rising incidence must already be successfully addressed by government and institutions.

To understand the causes of the increasing number of diagnosed STD in Australia certain factors should be considered.

Probably the most interesting factor that comes into play is online dating. People using dating apps and websites are increasing every year around the world. This trend proves that sexual habits are changing: the sexual networks broadens and becomes easier to have sex with more and different people. Internet give access to more sexual partners and consequently to more chance to get a sexual transmissible infection. In a way online dating shuffles the cards of personal connections overlapping sexual networks that otherwise would never be crossed.

Another “card shuffling factor” to be taken into consideration is tourism.

Travel can move infection along with the people. In 2018-19 short term visitor arrivals to Australia were more than 9 millions: the highest number ever recorded. Travelers tend to adopt an irresponsible sexual behavior in their leisure trips thus they are at greater risk of getting a sexual transmissible disease.

Moreover many studies show that there is a generalized declining in the use of condoms among Australian population, and even in the segment of people that use it there’s a good proportion of them that use improperly.

All these factors, and possibly many others too, are among the causes of the increased risk to getting a sexual transmissed infection in Australia today. So what can we do to prevent this risk?

Most of Sexually transmitted infections can be effectively prevented using condoms. It’s a very reliable tool to reduce STI contagion risk even with casual partner but it must be used properly: respect expiry dates, don’t store them in hot places and don’t use vaseline lubricants along with it.

Another important way to reduce the risk is to have few sex partners.

An example of this is mutual monogamy that can be a very reliable way to avoid sexually transmitted infections.

STD's and relationships

Tests for STDs are crucial instruments to know if one is infected and to be protected. Even sharing test results with partners can be an important method to reduce risk and to have a safe sexual life.

One last note on the importance of knowledge in this age of free flow of information that often does not translate into more informed people. The Department of Health of Western Australia has developed “Get The Facts”, an institutional website that aims to inform citizens on sexual health, sexually transmitted diseases and sexual life for teen agers aged 13-17 years. Even if it’s built for young people the valuable informations on STD and related healthcare services in Western Australia are good for older people too.

Felix Black

I am a doctor from Melbourne, VIC. I graduated from Melbourne Medical School in Parkville, Australia and did internship in University of Sydney Central Clinical School
Felix Black

Author: Felix Black

I am a doctor from Melbourne, VIC. I graduated from Melbourne Medical School in Parkville, Australia and did internship in University of Sydney Central Clinical School

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