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8 Mar, 2024 11:28

Sexually transmitted infections on rise in EU – report

A bloc health agency blames riskier sexual behavior post-pandemic
Sexually transmitted infections on rise in EU – report

Europe has seen a “troubling” rise in the number of cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), an EU agency has warned.

The Annual Epidemiological Report published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) on Thursday revealed the findings for 2022 for the member states of the European Union and the European Economic Area (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway).

According to the document, across the EU/EEA, cases of bacterial infections such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia saw a “troubling” and “significant” increase compared to 2021. Gonorrhea cases rose by 48%, syphilis cases by 34%, and chlamydia cases by 16%, the paper states. The report did not provide figures for viral STIs such as HIV and Hepatitis.

Sexual health education, expanded access to testing and treatment services, as well as fighting the stigma associated with STIs have been named as ways to address the issue by ECDC Director Andrea Ammon.

”Unfortunately, the numbers paint a stark picture, one that demands our immediate attention and action,” she told a media conference on Thursday.

“These numbers – as big as they are – most likely only represent the tip of the iceberg, because surveillance data may underestimate the true burden of syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia due to difference in testing practices, access to sexual health services and reporting practices across the countries,” she added, as cited by Euractiv.

While sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, are treatable, they can still lead to serious complications including chronic pain and infertility, if left untreated, the report notes.

STIs have been rising for years in the EU/EEA, although this was stalled during the 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic, as governments imposed social isolation measures forcing people to stay at home and avoid social contact.

An increase in riskier sexual behavior, along with better surveillance, a rise in home-testing, have been named by the ECDC as the reasons behind the sustained rise.

A jump in infections among young heterosexual people in the latest data, and particularly among young women, could be attributed to a change in sexual behavior post-pandemic, the EU agency said.

Before the pandemic, in 2019, reported numbers of cases of bacterial STIs reached an all-time high in Europe, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).