A HIGHER level of sexually transmitted infections being diagnosed among young international travellers has prompted the NSW Health Department, four Sydney councils and the NSW Backpackers Operators Association to target the group with free condoms and safe sex messages over the summer holiday period.
New research by the Sydney Sexual Health Centre, based at Sydney Hospital in Macquarie Street, showed that a culture of binge drinking among young travellers may be contributing to unsafe sexual behaviour and higher rates of infection when compared with the general population.
The centre's acting director, Lynne Wray, said yesterday a study of 4382 travellers and 8810 non-travellers aged 18 to 30 who visited the clinic between 1998 and 2006 showed that the travellers were more than twice as likely to drink excessively.
"The number of heterosexual backpackers coming to the clinic with new sexually transmitted infections is of great concern. A small proportion of these also have HIV infections that they have acquired in other countries on the way to Australia,"
Nineteen per cent of the travellers drank alcohol at hazardous levels, compared with 8 per cent for non-travellers, she said.
Dr Wray said 25 per cent of female travellers drank more than 140g of alcohol (14 standard drinks) and 15 per cent of male travellers had more than 280g of alcohol a week.
They were more likely to drink that amount in "one or two sessions a week".
"Often when they take risks with their sexual health and have unprotected sex they will often say to us, 'I'd had too much to drink,' " she said.
The incidence of chlamydia among travellers was 8 per cent, compared with 5 per cent for non-travellers. This may be due to travellers arriving from South-East Asia, where infection rates are higher. Also, 43 per cent of travellers had two or more sexual partners in a three-month period, compared with 30 per cent of non-travellers.
The Safe in the Sack Project, run by the Health Department in conjunction with City of Sydney, Manly, Waverley and Randwick councils and the NSW Backpackers Operators Association, will begin on December 1 and continue until March.
Sexual Health Infoline: 1800 451 624.
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