Syphilis rates increase by 70% in Europe

Since 2010 there has been 70% increase in reported cases of syphilis in Europe and several other high-income countries, according to a recent report published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

The data show that in 2017 there was a record high of 33 189 confirmed cases of syphilis across 28 European and high-income countries, which is an increase of over 13 000 when compared with the 19 797 recorded cases in 2007. Between 2007–2017 there were 260 000 documented cases of syphilis across the 28 countries.

The report states that the upward trend is mainly being driven by a rise in cases amongst men who have sex with men (MSM). The increase in this group is associated with higher rates of condomless sex and a general increase in sexual partners, potentially as a result of reduced fears of HIV infection. Between 2007-2017, almost two thirds (67%) of the reported cases of syphilis infection were in MSM, with 23% in heterosexual men and 15% in women. The factors associated with the rise in heterosexual groups were unprotected sex, multiple sex partners, substance use and poverty, amongst others.

There was also large variation between countries. Rates of syphilis more than doubled in five countries – Britain, Ireland, Germany, Malta and Iceland – from 2007 to 2017, while they dropped by 50% in some European countries, like Romania. When disregarding sexuality, men aged 25–34 years were the most likely to be infected with syphilis.

On the data, Dr Andrew Amato-Gauci, head of the HIV, STI and hepatitis programme at the ECDC, said to Reuters: ‘The increases in syphilis infections that we see across Europe are a result of several factors, such as people having sex without condoms and multiple sexual partners, combined with a reduced fear of acquiring HIV.’

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