Syphilis cases have risen in Europe over the last decade, and for the first time since the early 2000s they have become more common in some countries than new HIV cases, health experts said on Friday (July 12th).
Reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases have increased by 70% since 2010. A report by the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) showed – with the increase caused by more unprotected sex and more risky sexual behavior among gay men.
"The increase in syphilis infections we see across Europe … are the result of several factors, such as people who have sex without condoms and multiple sexual partners combined with reduced fear of HIV infection," said Andrew Amato-Gaucci , ECDC Expert on Sexually Transmitted Infections.
The European report comes after the World Health Organization announced last month that about one million people worldwide are catching sexually transmitted infections every day.
If not treated, syphilis may have serious complications in both men and women, including causing deadly births and the death of newborns and increasing the risk of HIV. Syphilis is one of the leading causes of global baby loss in 2016.
Stockholm-based ECDC, which monitors Europe's health and disease, said more than 260,000 cases of syphilis from 30 countries were reported as a whole from 2007 to 2017.
In 2017, syphilis levels reached its highest level with more than 33,000 reported cases, ECDC said. This means that for the first time since the early 2000s, the region reported more cases of syphilis than new cases of AIDS-causing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
However, the problem varies greatly between countries, with five countries – Britain, Germany, Ireland, Iceland and Malta – increasing more than twice, but in Estonia and Romania they have fallen by 50% or more.
Nearly two-thirds of the cases reported between 2007 and 2017 where sexual orientation was known are among men who have sex with men, the ECDC report said, while heterosexual men contributed 23% of the cases. women – by 15%.
The proportion of diagnosed cases 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 the UK.
Amato-Gaucci said the complacency among men who have gay sex and seem disturbing about the risks of HIV seems to fuel the problem. "To reverse this trend, we must encourage people to use condoms consistently with new and casual partners," he said.