STI numbers 'up by almost 30%'
The number of sexually transmitted infections diagnosed in Northern Ireland has soared by almost 30% in a decade, Stormont's Health minister has warned.
Last year 7,661 new cases were handled by medical clinics in the region.
Minister Edwin Poots highlighted the "serious consequences" of poor sexual health.
"There is a growing problem with rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) on the increase. I am concerned that between 2000 and 2011 the number of new STI diagnoses in Northern Ireland has increased by 28%," he said.
"STIs can have long-term effects on people's lives, with possible complications such as infertility, ectopic pregnancy, cervical cancer and other genital cancers. It can also affect a person's mental health and well-being, resulting in, for example, low self-esteem and relationship difficulties."
The Health Survey for Northern Ireland 2011-12 found that for a third of respondents (32%), drinking alcohol contributed to them having sex without using condoms.
Mr Poots said it was important to emphasise the issue of STIs before the festive period. "At this time of year in particular, I urge everyone, especially our young people, to be responsible, avoid risk-taking behaviour and treat their bodies and others with respect," he said.
In the survey, less than a fifth of respondents sought information on STIs including HIV, with men more likely to use the internet as a source of information and advice on sexually transmitted infections.
Dr Michael McBride, Chief Medical Officer in the Department of Health, said: "I am concerned there is a lack of knowledge and awareness of sexually transmitted infections including HIV.
"With proper information and knowledge people are more likely to avoid risky behaviour, use contraception, know what services are available and be more likely to use them."