Sex disease that can cause blindness hits record levels

Sexually transmitted diseases can lead to some unpleasant symptoms
-Credit: (Image: Getty)

In the past 12 years England has seen cases of gonorrhoea triple and the number of cases of the sexually-transmitted disease hit a new record in Leicestershire last year. In 2023, a total of 1,243 cases were diagnosed in the county and as well as being a record high, it will way up from the previous year.

In 2022 there were 1,077 cases - meaning the number of cases rose by 15 per cent in just one year. And in line with the national trend, Leicestershire has seen a huge rise since 2012 - the year regional cases started being recorded - when there were just 404 cases of the disease, which can cause sterility, blindness and several unpleasant genital conditions.

Nationally, as well as locally, gonorrhoea diagnoses are now triple what they were in 2012. Meanwhile, medics warn that sexual health services are at a “critical point” amid funding cuts and growing demand.

READ MORE: Warning as nasty sexual disease makes a big comeback in Leicestershire

The England-wide figures go back more than 100 years and the England figure for 2023 - about 85,000 cases - was the highest in the past century. Cases had been rising over the last decade before dropping off during the lockdowns and isolation of the pandemic - only to return to record levels last year.

The figures from last year are equivalent to one in 670 people in England being diagnosed with gonorrhoea in the past year. But in some parts of the country, the risk is far greater.

In Leicester city alone, there were 543 diagnoses of gonorrhoea last year. Compared to the population size that adds up to 145 infections per 100,000 people. That’s below the national average, but the highest rate in Leicestershire and the equivalent of about one in 688 people catching gonorrhoea.
The risk of catching gonorrhoea in Leicester is twice as high as in Melton borough, the area with the lowest infection rate in Leicestershire. Last year there were 78 infections per 100,000 of the population in Melton, or the equivalent of about one person in 1,279.
You can see the cases and rate of gonorrhoea where you live, and how that has changed over the last decade, using our interactive map below.

The British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) warns that sexual health services are facing growing demand for care “against a challenging backdrop of funding cuts and workforce pressures”. The number of consultations delivered by sexual health services in England reached a record 4.61 million in 2023.

That's a five per cent increase from the previous year, and a 44 per cent rise since 2019. BASHH has now called on the next government to implement a national sexual health strategy to address challenges and deliver “high-quality care that meets rising and changing demand, and that ends health inequalities”.

BASHH president, Professor Matt Phillips, said: “We find ourselves at a critical point for securing the viability of sexual health services. The worrying trajectory of new STI diagnoses are a sign of increased unmet needs for those who require sexual health care, particularly those in minoritised communities and those who might prefer face-to-face services, and underlines the need for a long-awaited and much-needed strategy for sexual health.

“From recruitment challenges to public health funding to ensuring the right experts are supporting every clinic, the next government has an opportunity to change the tides and address these barriers to ensure everyone has timely access to expertise to support good sexual health and wellbeing.”

Gonorrhoea can be traced back to Biblical times and mentions of this sexual infection can be found in the earliest records of the human race. The disease is thought to be referenced several times in the Old Testament and the ancient Romans, Jews and Arabs all have documents referring to gonorrhoea and each society had its description of symptoms and treatment.

Symptoms of gonorrhoea, formerly known as “the clap”, include a thick green or yellow discharge. It is normally spread by having unprotected sex.

If untreated, complications can include pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy and infertility in women as well as various unpleasant things such as "scrotal swelling" and pain during urination. Without treatment, gonorrhoea can cause permanent blindness.