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More cases of syphilis and gonorrhea in Norfolk since HIV drug launched

PUBLISHED: 15:56 26 September 2018 | UPDATED: 12:59 09 October 2018

Consultants Nelson David and Catherine Schunmann from the iCash clinic in Norwich. Photo: Geraldine Scott

Consultants Nelson David and Catherine Schunmann from the iCash clinic in Norwich. Photo: Geraldine Scott

Geraldine Scott

Rates of syphilis and gonorrhea in Norfolk have risen in part due to a drug which prevents the contraction of HIV.

Norfolk has been part of a national study of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a medication which prevents people catching HIV.

In Norwich alone 30 people who are considered at high risk of getting HIV, mostly men who have sex with men (MSM), have been part of a national trial into the drug.

Eight more slots in the city were about to open up and many purchased the medication privately.

But Nelson David, a consultant in sexual health at the iCash sexual health clinic in Norwich, said one consequence had been a rise in syphilis and gonorrhea in these groups, as they no longer needed to use condoms to protect them against HIV.

Mr David said: “If you take one tablet daily, you will not get HIV and people stop using condoms but because of that there is more and more unsafe sex.”

He said the rising rates of those two STIs in Norfolk was reflected across the country, and although there was no proven link between PrEP and the rise, it could be one reason alongside more people having multiple sexual partners and others.

The service was keen to explore is whether a rise in syphilis and gonorrhea related to individuals no longer feeling that they need to use condoms to protect them against HIV.

A spokesman for the service later said: “We continue to fully support and actively recruit to the PrEP trial.”

However, he also said it was easier now for people to find out whether they had an STI, as tests could be sent to people’s homes.

Some 1,575 kits were sent out in August alone.

He said on the other hand rates of human papilloma virus (HPV) had plummeted faster than expected, since vaccinations were introduced in 2008 for young girls.

Now, the HPV vaccine is available for the MSM group too.

Consultant in contraception and sexual health Catherine Schunmann said: “It’s happened quite quickly because we would not really expect to see that for 10 or 20 years.”

She said there was also a push to encourage women to use long acting contraception such as 
the contraceptive implant or an IUD.

She added the best part of the job, for her, was helping someone get contraception when they had previously been too nervous to do so, such as having a IUD fitted.

“Sometimes they’ve just not thought what might be possible and they thought they would not cope,” she said.

This week is sexual health awareness week. For more information, visit www.fpa.org.uk/campaigns/sexual-health-week

To find help in Norfolk, visit www.icash.nhs.uk/where-to-go or call 0300 300 3030.

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