STIs were soaring prior to the first Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020, with grave warnings that cuts to sexual health services would lead to an ‘explosion’ in infections.
The significant drop is thought to be due to a combination of less testing as well as changes in behaviour as the country went into lockdown.
People are now being warned to be careful not to ‘swap social distancing for an STI’.
Public Health England said diagnoses decreased by 32% last year compared with 2019, but added diagnoses remain high overall.
Services to diagnose infections took the form of phone and internet consultations last year, with PHE saying 317,901 STIs were diagnosed.
Consultations at sexual health services in 2020 decreased by 10% on 2019.
The biggest drop was in face-to-face consultations, which were down by 35% on 2019, while internet consultations doubled over the same time period.
There was a 25% fall in sexual health screenings – tests for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and HIV.
PHE said infections that require an in-person assessment – like genital warts and herpes – saw a greater drop, falling by 46% and 40% respectively.
The highest rates of STI diagnoses were still seen in people aged 15 to 24, people of black ethnicity, and gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men. These trends are the same as in previous years.
Dr Katy Sinka, head of the sexually-transmitted infections section at PHE, said: ‘No-one wants to swap social distancing for an STI and, as we enjoy the fact that national Covid-19 restrictions have lifted, it is important that we continue to look after our sexual health and wellbeing.
‘If you are having sex with new or casual partners, use a condom and get tested – STIs can pose serious consequences to your own health and that of your current or future sexual partners.’
Debbie Laycock, head of policy at HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust, welcomed the ‘significant drop’ as ‘one unexpected good news story from the coronavirus pandemic’.
She said online testing ‘must now be maintained and expanded with greater consistency across the country’.
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