HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust (THT) is warning gay and bisexual men in London of an aggressive form of chlamydia, rates of which have more than doubled over a one year period.

LGV (lymphogranuloma venereum) is a serious sexually transmitted infection (STI) that attacks the lymph nodes. It has been spreading among gay and bisexual men since arriving in the UK around 2004. New figures from the Health Protection Agency show that cases in London increased dramatically from 135 in 2009 to 350 in 2010, the highest number to date. London currently has two-thirds of the cases seen nationally, with further concentrations of cases in Brighton and Manchester.

The majority of men infected with LGV develop symptoms within a few weeks, and nearly all have been infected rectally. Symptoms can include bleeding and discharge from the rectum, painful inflammation (called ‘proctitis’), and painful anal abscesses or ulcers. Left untreated, LGV can cause lasting damage. The inside of the rectum can become so seriously affected it might require surgery.

LGV bacteria are passed on through unprotected anal sex, fisting or on sex toys shared between partners. The best way gay men can guard against the infection is to use condoms for anal sex and latex gloves for fisting. Men should avoid sharing sex toys, or put a fresh condom on them between each new partner. Any man experiencing anal discomfort should consult a GUM clinic, rather than their GP who may misdiagnose the problem. As long as LGV is treated soon enough, it can be cured with three weeks of antibiotics.

Ben Tunstall, Head of Health Improvement at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “This is an alarming increase. LGV is a particularly nasty infection, which also increases your risk of picking up or passing on other STIs, including HIV, Hep C, and syphilis. It can be easily treated, but it’s obviously far better for you – and of course your partner – not to get it in the first place. The best way to guard against LGV is to use condoms during sex.”

“Be aware of early warning signs, which include constipation, pain or bleeding from the rectum. If you start showing these symptoms, the best thing to do is quickly get yourself to the nearest GUM clinic for a test. When going for a check-up, ask for your bum to be checked for chlamydia if the clinic doesn’t already do this. And don’t have any kind of sex until you’ve been checked and treated.”

THT produces a booklet ‘LGV: A new infection affecting gay and bisexual men’, made with the support of BHIVA (British HIV Association) and BASHH (British Association for Sexual Health and HIV) and is funded by CHAPS. It is available in sexual health clinics, saunas, sex clubs and other selected gay venues across England, and can be downloaded from www.tht.org.uk/lgv.

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