Young people put at serious risk by poor advice on holiday sex

July 22, 2004

Holidaymakers, and young people in particular, face death and serious health problems from risky sexual behaviour abroad, while they receive little preventative advice or appropriate screening on return, according to a paper in this week's BMJ.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) in the UK continue to rise, making "any sexual encounter potentially hazardous" yet travel brochures carry minimal advice on safe sex (3%) and preventative measures do not go far enough. Even more worrying, says the author, "is tour operators' encouragement of sex with partners by presenting prizes."

The review paper, by Sheffield consultant Dr Karen Rogstad, showed that in one study of holidaymakers attending a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic within three months of their return home, a quarter had slept with a new partner while away, and two thirds had not used condoms or had used them haphazardly.

A separate study of holidaymakers in Tenerife showed that 50 per cent of those aged 25 or younger had had sex with someone new while on holiday, compared to 22 per cent of those over 25.

Travellers to developing countries are additionally at risk of "tropical" infections, such as syphilis, which is also now a major problem in countries of the former Soviet bloc. HIV infection rates are also on the increase at home and abroad, and the risk is increased in areas of high prevalence, such as sub-Sarahan Africa, the Far East and, more recently, India, Latin America, and the Caribbean. Between 2000 and 2002, 69 per cent of men in the UK who acquired HIV from heterosexual sex were infected while abroad.

With such high rates of infection more widespread education is vital, says Dr Rogstad. Preventative advice should be offered to all holidaymakers, particularly those going to the developing world. Young people should be encouraged to seek health screening on return from holiday, and secondary prophylaxis (taken soon after exposure to reduce the risk of an infection taking hold) for HIV and Hepatitis B should be considered in certain circumstances.


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