Direct flights abroad have led to a surge in sexually-transmitted diseases in the Isle of Man.
Seasonal peaks in infections have correlated with the holiday-makers jetting off from Ronaldsway to places such as Magaluf and Ibiza.
Asked whether they were linked, public health boss Dr Parameswaran Kishore told the Examiner: ‘That’s true, absolutely.’
Christmas and New Year is also a time when the rate of sexual infections increase.
‘Put it on and party’ is the message from a sexual health action group distributing thousands of condoms throughout the festive season, to try to curb the rate of sexually transmitted infections.
The Action Group for Manx Sexual Health (AG4MSH) was formed in response to figures reported by the Genito Urinary Medicine (GUM) clinic at Noble’s Hospital, and members – with the backing of Public Health Directorate – began a roadshow of the island’s pubs and bars at the weekend.
Group co-founder Nula Perren said: ‘The rate of STDs [sexually-transmitted diseases] has gone through the roof, and it’s had an impact at the GUM clinic. They just don’t have enough condoms.’
Dr Kishore said: ‘Alcohol – which lowers inhibitions – and increased social contact during the party season, creates more opportunities for sexual encounters. Unprotected sex has many consequences, but especially sexually-transmitted infections.’
Most common is chlamydia, but Dr Kishore warned of the prevalence of other infections, including HIV.
He added: ‘Figures fluctuate month by month, but there are several peaks. In December 2012 114 people – of all age groups – visited the GUM clinic; in January 2013 it was up to 188.’
There were other notable peaks in spring and late summer, with 200 people visiting the GUM clinic in April, 190 in August and 189 in September.
‘Of course, this is only our GUM clinic, some people might go across for treatment, if they have treatment at all,’ said Dr Kishore. ‘With infections like chlamydia there are no symptoms. The first some people hear of it is when they get investigated for infertility 10 years later.’
Since launching on Thursday, an AG4MSH weekend roadshow has taken the ‘put it on and party’ tagline to pubs and bars in Laxey, Onchan, Douglas, Ramsey and Peel – with more planned – distributing the 6,000 condoms donated by PokerStars.
Ms Perren added that vending machine operators say poor sales mean that operating condom machines is often ‘not worth their while’ .
‘At that time of night, when you get in the mood, there’s nowhere to get condoms from,’ she said. ‘Also, part of the problem is “everyone knowing everyone”; buying them from your village chemist can be an embarrassing thing.’
The group hopes to have an impact on January and February’s GUM clinic figures.
Ms Perren said: ‘We’ve had 25 venues around the island so far say yes to a visit, stocking condoms or putting up posters, though we need some more venues in Ramsey.
‘What the roadshow has done is spark up the debate. People may know there’s a problem with chlamydia, but not how bad AIDS is. We’ve heard comments like “by the time I ever got HIV they will have found a cure”.
‘Something else to think about is less than half the island’s population are Manx. If young boys and girls get chlamydia and become infertile, well, there are so many serious trends. So stay safe for your country! I’m presenting that in a “jokey” way, but it’s serious.
‘Parents, do you want grandchildren? Then face the embarrassment and talk to children about sexual health. That’s what this has done, got people talking.’
Ms Perren added the government also had an incentive to promote safe sexual practice. ‘One condom costs £1.35,’ she said. ‘Treating someone for chlamydia costs £150, and AIDS treatment can cost tens of thousands.’