Gonorrhoea and syphilis: Diagnoses hit record levels in 2022 - how to get tested and who should

Diagnoses for gonorrhoea and syphilis hit record highs in 2022 in new findings from the UK Health Security Agency.

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Diagnoses for gonorrhoea and syphilis hit record highs in 2022. New data shows that the diagnoses for syphilis were at their highest since 1948.

In 2022, gonorrhoea and syphilis had the highest number of diagnoses in 74 years, as shown by new data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). The latest data shows people aged 15 to 24 are the most likely to be diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections, among other findings.

The UKHSA has said that while the increase in gonorrhoea and syphilis are in part due to increasing testing, the scale of the increase suggests there is more transmission of STIs within the population. In light of the findings, the UKHSA is reminding sexually active people with new or casual partners to wear a condom and get tested regularly, no matter what their age of sexual orientation is. 

STIs are usually treated easily with antibiotics however, they can cause serious health issues if left untreated. Chlamydia and gonorrhoea in particular can cause infertility and pelvic inflammatory disease.

Gonorrhoea is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics. This means it is at risk of becoming untreatable in the future, so it’s vital that you get tested early and diagnose the infection to prevent passing it on.

Syphilis can cause serious, irreversible and potentially life-threatening problems with your brain, heart or nerves. Testing is confidential and free and can be accessed through local sexual health clinics, university and college medical centres or through self-sampling kits sent discreetly through the post.

The latest data from the Government shows

  • Gonorrhoea diagnosis increased to 82,592 in 2022. This is an increase of 50.3% compared to 2021 figures (54,961) and 16.1% compared to 2019 (before the Covid pandemic). This is the highest number of diagnoses in any one year since records began in 1918.

  • Syphilis diagnoses increased to 8,692 in 2022. This is up by 15.2% compared to 2021 (7,543) and 8.1% compared to 2019. This is the largest annual number since 1948.

  • People aged 15 to 24 years remain the most likely to be diagnosed with STIs

  • Over 400 diagnoses of STIs were made each day among young people

  • In 2022, there were 2,195,909 sexual health screens (diagnostic tests for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis or HIV performed by sexual health services. This was an increase of 13.4% compared to 2021 (1,936,455).

Dr Hamish Mohammed, Consultant Epidemiologist at UKHSA, said: “We saw more gonorrhoea diagnoses in 2022 than ever before, with large rises particularly in young people. STIs aren’t just an inconvenience – they can have a major impact on your health and that of any sexual partners. Condoms are the best defence, but if you didn’t use one the last time you had sex with a new or casual partner, get tested to detect any potential infections early and prevent passing them on to others. Testing is important because you may not have any symptoms of an STI.”

STI testing

The Government is urging people to get tested even if you are not showing any symptoms. Regular screening for STIs and HIV is recommended for anyone having condomless sex with new or casual partners. In addition:

  • Women and other people with a womb and ovaries aged under 25 years who are sexually active should have a chlamydia test after having sex with a new partner or annually

  • Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men should have tests for HIV and STIs annually or every 3 months if having condomless sex with new or casual partners