Sexually transmitted infection, or STI, rates are on the rise post-pandemic with 136,135 recorded STIs for 2023 so far.
Infections are now matching or, in some cases, surpassing record-high rates for 2019 when over 150,000 STIs were reported.
Data for July, August and September (Q3) shows STIs are 14% higher than the same time last year. It follows a significant drop in reported infections during 2020 and 2021 COVID-19 lockdowns.
Gonorrhoea is an STI caused by bacteria. It can cause pain when urinating or during sex and unusual discharge.
Over the last five years, gonorrhoea infections have increased by 30% in Australia.
Gonorrhoea infections peaked in 2019, with 34,746 reported cases for the year. With data yet to be collected for the final months of 2023, there have been 34,391 reported cases of gonorrhoea this year.
Chlamydia is caused by the spread of bacteria through unprotected sexual contact. Symptoms can include pain when urinating or during sex and unusual discharge. Three in four women and one in two men don’t show early symptoms of chlamydia, which can cause infertility if left untreated.
Chlamydia infections increased by almost 10% over the past year. Case numbers for Q3 2023 (26,528) are on par with the same time in 2019,
when infections peaked (26,921).
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) flagged a national decline in condom use, which is leaving more people unprotected against several STIs.
A recent study by La Trobe University reported that condom use among young people had decreased.
The survey asked nearly 7,000 14 to 18-year-olds how frequently they used condoms during sex, with 38% reporting they “always” used a condom.
Testing for STIs
RACGP sexual health chair Dr Sara Whitburn told TDA testing rates “were lower during the pandemic,” but said those numbers were starting to improve.
“As people return to testing, I think we may see increased rates of STIs, but that also reflects more people getting tested and treated, which is a good thing.”
Whitburn said STIs that “go unnoticed” can present future health risks, adding that asymptomatic testing rates “can always be higher”.