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STIs in the black community

STIs in the black community
In England close to half a million people were diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection (STI) in 2014 - and the highest rates were in black people. Kerri Virani finds out more.

Have you ever taken a risk and had sex without a condom? Did you put it out of your mind, go for a sexual health screen or vow never to do it again? Whatever you choose to do in your sex life it’s important to know the facts about STIs and risky sex – that way you can make informed choices.

The statistics

In the UK, 3.3% of the population are black African, black Caribbean or black British (mixed race people are included in a separate category) – that’s 2,085,006 people according to the 2011 Census. Yet 35,730 of all new STI diagnoses in 2014 were among people who identified as black or black British. That means around one in every 58 black people had an STI during 2014, assuming the population numbers are around the same as the last Census.

Why does it matter?

You might think an STI is a bit of an inconvenience, some itching and scratching, perhaps a rash or burning pee. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. STIs can cause life-changing health problems with serious implications. But they are simple to avoid and on the whole simple to treat.

Black people and STIs

The latest figures from Public Health England (PHE) show that rates of gonorrhoea in black people are higher than for any other group. Rates of genital warts are also very high, followed by genital herpes and syphilis. Gonorrhoea and syphilis can have lasting effects on your health if they are not diagnosed and treated in time and there is no cure for herpes, even though it is manageable. Another problem is that gonorrhoea is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics and may be much harder to treat in the future.

Most of the cases of STIs in black people were found in people living in poor urban areas with high levels of deprivation. PHE are so concerned by these findings that they are researching the reasons for this inequality in black people’s sexual health.

What are you really risking?

Undiagnosed and untreated STIs can lead to long-term health problems – chlamydia can lead to infertility while syphilis can lead to heart problems and paralysis. There is also HIV – and black African people are a high-risk group when it comes to HIV transmission. Having other STIs can make it easier to pass on or catch HIV. Although HIV is now a manageable condition – people can live a normal lifespan if they are diagnosed and start treatment in time – it is better not to catch it in the first place.

Avoiding STIs

We all know how to avoid STIs – including HIV – use a condom every time you have sex. But even though people know this, it sometimes just doesn’t happen. Why? It’s hard to say, people get caught up in the heat of the moment, they don’t like the feel of condoms so take a chance or they tell themselves that the person they are with is ‘clean’.

In the back of their minds they know you can’t tell by looking at someone whether they have an STI – and that getting an STI, HIV or having an unwanted pregnancy are not risks worth taking.

If you think you may have an STI, or you have had sex without a condom, you can go for a confidential check-up at a sexual health clinic. You can also get any treatment you need through the clinic, you don’t even have to give your real name. The clinic will also be able to test you for HIV and give you free condoms and talk to you about any concerns.

Some of the most common STIs

Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea sometimes has no symptoms but may cause:

Men: burning when peeing, a discharge from the penis which can be white, green or yellow, testicular pain and tenderness.

Women: a green or yellow watery discharge, tenderness in the abdomen, pain during sex and pain when peeing.

Treated by: antibiotic injection and tablets.

If untreated may cause: fertility problems in men and women, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) in women and prostate and testicular infections in men.

Syphilis

Syphilis starts with a painless sore around your genitals or mouth which is very infectious. Without treatment it can progress to a flu-like illness and rash. After many years untreated syphilis can cause serious health issues such as heart problems, blindness and paralysis.

Treated by: a single dose of penicillin during the first two stages, the later stage can be treated with a course of three injections.

Chlamydia

Chlamydia often has no symptoms but may cause:

Men: burning when peeing, discharge from the penis or pain in the testicles.

Women: burning when peeing, vaginal discharge, bleeding between periods or pain during sex.

Treated by: antibiotics.

If untreated may cause: infertility and sexually acquired reactive arthritis (SARA) in men and women

Find out about these and other STIs on the NHS website

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Kerri has worked as a Health Trainer at Terrence Higgins Trust and is now their editor. She is particularly interested in the advances being made in HIV treatment and prevention. She also loves football, knitting and baking.

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