LONDON – Syphilis cases have soared in Europe in the last decade and have become, for the first time since the beginning of the 2000s, more common in some countries than new cases of HIV, experts said today of health.
Reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases have increased by 70% since 2010, showed a report by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) – with the increase driven by more unprotected sex and more sexual behavior risky among gay men.
"The increases in syphilis infections that we see in Europe … are the result of several factors, such as people having sex without condoms and multiple sexual partners, combined with a reduced fear of contracting HIV," he said. Andrew Amato-Gauci, an ECDC expert on sexually transmitted infections.
The European report comes after the World Health Organization declared last month that about a million people in the world every day capture a sexually transmitted infection.
If left untreated, syphilis can have serious complications in men and women, including the death of dead fetuses and neonatal deaths and the increased risk of HIV. Syphilis was a major cause of loss of newborns globally in 2016.
The Stockholm-based ECDC, which monitors health and disease in Europe, said that overall, over 260,000 cases of syphilis were reported from 30 countries from 2007 to 2017.
In 2017, syphilis rates reached an all-time high with over 33,000 reported cases, ECDC said. This means that for the first time since the beginning of the 2000s, the region reported more cases of syphilis than new cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS.
But the problem varied significantly by country, with rates more than doubled in five countries – Britain, Germany, Ireland, Iceland and Malta – but with a decrease of 50% or more in Estonia and Romania.
Almost 2/3 of the cases reported between 2007 and 2017 in which the sexual orientation was known concerned men who had sex with men, said the ECDC report, while heterosexual men contributed to the 23% of cases and women 15%.
The percentage of cases diagnosed among men who have sex with men varies from less than 20% in Latvia, Lithuania and Romania to over 80% in France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Great Britain.
Amato-Gauci said that self-satisfaction among men who have gay sex and seem worried about the risks of HIV seems to have fueled the problem. "To reverse this trend, we must encourage people to use condoms consistently with new and random partners," he said. (Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)