STI rates rising in Europe partly due to riskier sexual behavior, European CDC says

Sexually transmitted infections increased across Europe in 2022, with reported cases of gonorrhea increasing by almost half, the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said as it released its most recent data on Thursday.

Syphilis cases increased 34% from the previous year, to more than 35,000, and chlamydia cases increased 16%, to more than 216,000. Gonorrhea cases jumped 48%. to reach more than 70,000.

“The numbers paint a grim picture, which requires our immediate attention and action,” ECDC Director Andrea Ammon said at a news conference on the data.

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Untreated STIs can lead to a range of health problems, including chronic pain, infertility and, in the case of syphilis, neurological and cardiovascular complications.

Cases of lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV) and congenital syphilis, when the infection is passed from mother to fetus, have also increased sharply, the ECDC said, although from lower levels.

Two people kiss in front of a bonfire

Two people kiss near a bonfire at Poniente beach in Gijon, Spain, June 24, 2017. ECDC data shows an increase in STIs in Europe, partly due to better testing and to riskier sexual behavior. (Reuters / Eloy Alonso/File photo)

Rates of STIs have been rising for years in many countries, including Europe, although this trend has been halted by the COVID-19 pandemic as most governments have imposed social isolation measures, people stayed home and reporting rates fell.

There are a number of reasons for this sustained rise, the ECDC said, including better surveillance and an increase in home testing as well as an increase in risky sexual behavior.

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According to the latest data, an increase in infections among young heterosexuals, and particularly among young women, could be due to a change in sexual behavior after the pandemic, the European agency said.

He said there was no evidence yet that the increase in gonorrhea infections was due to antimicrobial resistance, but said he would continue to monitor this phenomenon. Ammon said those numbers likely represent just the “tip of the iceberg” because many infections go undetected.

European countries must focus on testing, treatment and prevention efforts, she said, and individuals must take steps to protect themselves, including using condoms, for example.

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