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hands covering breasts, flag of the European Union (© michaklootwijk - stock.adobe.com)

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are surging across Europe, with researchers reporting significant increases in cases of syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and other infections. Officials in the European Union say this upswing in cases emphasizes the critical need for enhanced prevention strategies, broader access to testing facilities, and effective treatments to tackle this escalating public health challenge.

In 2022, the reported instances of these infections saw a notable jump from the previous year’s figures. Gonorrhea cases spiked by an astounding 48 percent, syphilis by 34 percent, and chlamydia by 16 percent.

Furthermore, there has been a concerning rise in cases of lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV) — a rare form of chlamydia — and congenital syphilis, which occurs when the infection is transmitted from a pregnant mother to her fetus. These increases signal an urgent call to action to stem further spread and address the public health impacts of STIs.

Young couple in love lying embracing in bed
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are surging across Europe as there have been significant increases in cases of syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and other infections. (© fizkes – stock.adobe.com)

“Addressing the substantial increases in STI cases demands urgent attention and concerted efforts. Testing, treatment and prevention lie at the heart of any long-term strategy. We must prioritize sexual health education, expand access to testing and treatment services, and combat the stigma associated with STIs,” says Andrea Ammon, director of the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), in a media release.

“Education and awareness initiatives are vital in empowering individuals to make informed choices about their sexual health. Promoting consistent condom use and fostering open dialogue about STIs can help reduce transmission rates.”

The rise in STI cases underscores the importance of individuals taking proactive measures to protect themselves and their partners. Regular testing is crucial, particularly for those with new or multiple partners, to facilitate early detection and treatment. It’s noteworthy that many of these infections can be asymptomatic, meaning they can be passed on without the individuals realizing they’re infected. Therefore, testing before engaging in unprotected sex is crucial for preventing the spread of STIs.

If someone suspects they have contracted an STI, seeking medical advice immediately is critical for timely treatment, which is key to preventing further transmission and the severe complications these diseases can cause. While infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are treatable, they can lead to significant health issues if not addressed.

These include pelvic inflammatory disease, chronic pain, infertility, and in the case of syphilis, severe neurological and cardiovascular problems. Moreover, untreated syphilis during pregnancy can have devastating effects on children.

Couple having sex
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are surging across Europe as there have been significant increases in cases of syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and other infections. (© New Africa – stock.adobe.com)

The ECDC highlights the importance of proactive measures, including the practice of safe sex, to combat the rising STI rates. Using condoms correctly and consistently during sexual activity is one of the most effective ways to prevent the transmission of STIs. Additionally, open and honest communication with partners about sexual health can significantly reduce the risk of infection and promote better overall well-being.

The study is published in the journal Eurosurveillance.

Key STIs and Their Impacts

Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis: These bacterial infections are among the most common STIs. While they can be treated with antibiotics, early detection is crucial. Untreated, they can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, and in the case of syphilis, significant damage to the heart, brain, and other organs.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is the most common STI and has many strains, some of which can cause genital warts or lead to cervical cancer and other cancers of the genitals, head, neck, and throat.

Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV): HSV-1 and HSV-2 can cause oral and genital herpes, respectively. While outbreaks can be managed, the virus remains in the body for life and can be passed to others, even without visible sores.

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): HIV attacks the immune system, reducing its ability to fight off other diseases and infections. Without treatment, HIV can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), a chronic, life-threatening condition.

Hepatitis B and C: These viral infections affect the liver and can be transmitted sexually or through contact with infected blood. Chronic hepatitis can lead to liver cirrhosis, liver failure, or liver cancer.

Prevention and Protection

  • Condom Use: Consistent and correct use of condoms significantly reduces the risk of contracting most STIs.
  • Vaccinations: Vaccines are available for some STIs, such as HPV and Hepatitis B, offering an effective way to prevent these infections.
  • Regular Testing: Regular STI screenings are crucial, especially if you have new or multiple sexual partners. Many STIs can be asymptomatic, so testing is the only way to know your status.
  • Communication: Open and honest communication with sexual partners about STI testing and history is essential for mutual protection.

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