CASES of gonorrhoea rose in Oxfordshire last year but were still less than halve the average for England, which hit its highest level in more than a century.

Experts say the large rise in gonorrhoea diagnoses nationally is worrying, with the sexually transmitted infection becoming more resistant to antibiotics over time.

Public Health England (PHE) figures show 385 cases of gonorrhoea were diagnosed in Oxfordshire in 2019.

That was up by four per cent from the 370 infections reported a year earlier. It meant the area had a gonorrhoea infection rate of 56 per 100,000 people – below the South East’s average rate of 74.

Across England as a whole, 126 in every 100,000 people was infected with gonorrhoea last year.

Cases across England went up by 26 per cent over the year to 70,936 – the highest number since records began in 1918.

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Gonorrhoea is the second most common bacterial STI in the UK after chlamydia and can sometimes be symptomless.

Dr Hamish Mohammed, national lead for sexually transmitted infection surveillance at PHE, said: “The considerable rise of gonorrhoea cases in England as well as the continued rise of other STIs is concerning.

“It is important to emphasise that STIs can pose serious consequences to health.

“We expect to see further cases of antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea in the future, which will be challenging for healthcare professionals to manage.”

In Oxfordshire, overall STI cases rose to 4,192 last year, a very slight rise from 4,180 in 2018. Across England, however, cases went up by five per cent.

PHE said the national rise was likely to be due to people not using condoms correctly and consistently with new and casual partners, and an increase in testing helping improve detection of the most common infections.

Chlamydia was the most commonly diagnosed infection last year, with 229,411 – or nearly half – of all new STI diagnoses in 2019.

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Among young people aged 15 to 24, the number of chlamydia tests carried out rose two per cent compared with 2018. Dr John McSorley, president of the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, said the year-on-year rise in STI diagnoses is ‘hugely concerning’.

He said: “This year we have seen how crucial investment in public health services is to support the wellbeing of populations more widely, and we must consider how we can continue to improve access to services for all those who need them and those at the highest risk.”

​PHE said it is analysing the data to understand the impact of the Covid-19 response on HIV and STI services and the effect of social distancing measures on the spread of STIs.

Ian Green, chief executive of sexual health charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, said the figures reveal the ‘ongoing inaction and lack of vision for improving the nation’s sexual health’.

He added: “Rates of sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhoea and syphilis are rising significantly while sexual health services are over-burdened and under-funded.”

Mr Green said as people start to have sex again in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown, access to testing and treatment should be ‘scaled up in parallel’.