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Gonorrhoea: an incidence graph of Mersey region data for the 1990s and discussion on the factors behind the changing pattern of incidence
  1. B Bhattacharjee,
  2. A K Ghosh
  1. Department of GU Medicine, Royal Liverpool University Hospital, Prescot Street, Liverpool L7 8XP
  1. Dr Bhattacharjee, Department of Genitourinary Medicine, Arrowe Park Hospital, Upton, Wirral, Merseyside L49 5PE

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Editor,—Gonorrhoea is one of the oldest and a highly infectious sexually transmitted infection. Its prevalence is dynamic and fluctuates over time and is influenced by a number of factors. The incidence of this infection has changed from a trend of steady decline to a recent increase in many parts of the world.1, 2 The pattern of incidence is closely related to socioeconomic conditions.3, 4

An incidence graph of Mersey Region figures (fig 1) for the 1990s and a discussion on the possible factors associated with the changing pattern is presented here. The incidence from the Mersey Region shows a steady decline until the mid 1990s followed by a recent increase and represents the trend in most areas. In spite of the advances in the diagnostic and therapeutic field, organised health advisory system, easy access walk-in clinics, complete confidentiality, and free treatments; the incidence of gonorrhoea is rising. From the broader analysis of the situation, it is possible to say that most of the factors behind this changing pattern are socioeconomic. The factors may include advances in contraceptives, sexual liberalisation, increase in the mobility of population, and the changing economic environment. The cumulative result of all these factors is an increase in casual relationships. Casual sex is made riskier when it is performed unprotected and without much knowledge about the partner and is possibly the main reason behind the poor contact tracing of only 0.5 out of an average of 1.5 per patient.5

Some of these factors are part of the wider evolutionary process and are difficult issues to deal with, but preventive measures may be taken against the others. In spite of the recent advances and better understanding of the disease in the recent years, there is still a lack of awareness, in the general population, of the possible mental and physical effects of such infection. The significant fall in the incidence of gonorrhoea seen in the late 1980s, secondary to extensive media coverage of HIV infection, shows how effective such campaigns can be. The present rise in the incidence of gonorrhoea in the past few years shows clearly that our prevention campaigns are not effective.

The young teenagers who make up the pool of supply and the young females who make up the pool of asymptomatic reservoirs of the infection, are the two core groups our campaigns should be targeting.

At present there is no programme in the school curriculum about sexual health and no regular screening programme for sexually active young females.

A programme of long term measures, such as education on sexual health and sexually transmitted infections in schools, and a programme of regular screening for gonorrhoea (and chlamydia) for all sexually active young females, may be useful and this can be, to start with, combined with the cervical smear screening programme at very little additional cost. Short term programmes, like vigorous media campaigns nationally and poster and leaflet campaigns locally in high risk recreational areas like pubs and clubs, may have an educational value and help reduce the incidence.

Figure 1

Total incidence of gonorrhoea in the Mersey Region in 1990-9 (in absolute numbers).

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