HEALTH chiefs are warning of an impending crisis after new figures revealed the spread of sexually transmitted diseases is soaring in South Cheshire.
Leighton Hospital's sexual health clinic has seen an upsurge in the number of people seeking treatment for potentially dangerous infections.
Since 1995 the number of people with gonorrhoea, which can increase the risk of catching the fatal HIV virus, has rocketed by 1,200%.
And the number of people with chlamydia, which can lead to preg-nancy complications and infertility in women, has also risen sharply, by 114% over the same period.
The figures also show the Central Cheshire Primary Care Trust, which includes Leighton and Northwich's Victoria Infirmary, treated seven new HIV/Aids cases last year.
The cases, which take the total number being treated for the disease to 44, were diagnosed mainly in heterosexuals from the ages of 25-44.
Health Protection Agency North West director Qutub Syed warned figures could be the tip of the iceberg with people unaware they are infected.
He said: 'These figures are a wake-up call for a generation. We need to shake young people out of their complacency about sexual health.
'HIV is not something that happened in the 1980s. It is a growing problem.
'Gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis are also serious health hazards that can be avoided by people practising safer sex. That is the message we must keep hammering home.'
A breakdown of the statistics also revealed the re-emergence of syphilis in South Cheshire, a virulent disease which can cause child deformities and still births.
The prevalence of the disease had fallen sharply but since 1995 20 cases have been diagnosed in Cheshire.
Concern has grown after it was revealed the 1,200% rise in the spread of gonorrhoea is twice the 594% seen countywide, pointing to an epidemic.
Intelligence specialist Matthew Aston, who helped compile the figures for the Health Protection Agency's Surveillance Unit, said the rises show a need to act.
He said: 'After consistent increases in sexually transmitted infections over the past eight years, we need to work hard to change sexual behaviour.
'Safe sex messages need to be at the forefront of everyone's mind so that anybody contemplating sex will have condoms available.'
But on a positive note, the figures do show an awareness of the conditions can reduce the spread of some infections with cases of genital warts falling by 28.7%.
The cases of herpes, a virulent virus which cannot be cured, fell sharply, by 40.2%, despite a 46% rise in the number of cases seen elsewhere in the county.