Europe is beset by a post-pandemic surge in sexually transmitted infections (STIs), health chiefs warned today. 

Rates of gonorrhoea across the continent have risen more than 50 per cent in just a year. Syphilis rates have spiked more than a third. 

Holiday destinations popular with Brits such as Spain, Italy and Malta are among those which have reported a surge in STIs in data recorded for 2022. 

Similar to the UK, Covid lockdown rules in many parts of Europe effectively put a stop to casual sex, leading to a drop in STI transmission.

Health officials suspect this period unexpected chastity was then followed by post-lockdown boom in people having condomless sex with new or casual partners. 

STI testing itself was hugely reduced during the pandemic as health systems pivoted to focusing on Covid. 

While the majority of STI cases reported in the European Centre For Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) data are among adults in their 20s and 30s some experts suspect the rise of the ‘silver swiper’ could also be factor.

The term reflects an increasing number of older people going on to find new sexual partners following divorce or bereavement facilitated by a rise ease of online dating.

ECDC data recorded 17.9 gonorrhoea cases per 100,000 people reported in 27 European nations in 2022 — up 53 per cent on the 11.7 logged in 2021. 

The figure is roughly equivalent to almost one in every 5,000 people on the continent having the STI. 

In comparison, the rate was just 10.4 per 100,000 people in 2019.  

Syphilis, meanwhile, spiked 35 per cent from 6.3 per 100,000 to 8.5, equivalent to slightly less than one in every 10,000 people. In 2019 its rate was 6.5. 

Chlamydia has also risen by around a sixth (16 per cent) to a rate of 87.9 per 100,000 — up on the 75.8 recorded in 2021 and equivalent to almost one in every 1,000 people. Its rate stood at 77.8 in 2019.

Cases of congenital syphilis — caused by transmission from mother to foetus — also increased from from 1.8 per 100,000 people to 2.4.

Writing in the journal, Eurosurveillance, researchers said the findings highlight ‘an urgent need for action’ to prevent further spread of the infections. 

ECDC director Dr Andrea Ammon also said: ‘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 prioritise sexual health education, expand access to testing and treatment services, and combat the stigma associated with STIs.

‘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.’

STIs such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis, are often treatable but can lead to serious health complications if left to develop.

These include pelvic inflammatory disease or chronic pain.

In extreme cases, chlamydia and gonorrhoea can lead to infertility while syphilis can cause neurological and cardiovascular issues.

The NHS advises waiting 14 days before testing for chlamydia and gonorrhoea and four weeks for syphilis and HIV. 

Latest UKHSA data shows STIs chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis have enjoyed a post Covid boom with diagnoses sharply rising in 2022. Syphilis diagnoses (purple line) have a separate Y-axis on the right compared to other STIs

Latest UKHSA data shows STIs chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis have enjoyed a post Covid boom with diagnoses sharply rising in 2022. Syphilis diagnoses (purple line) have a separate Y-axis on the right compared to other STIs

Data suggests that overall Brits aged between 15 and 24-years-of-age were the most likely to test positive for an STI. Here gonorrhoea diagnoses broken down by age group are shown

Data suggests that overall Brits aged between 15 and 24-years-of-age were the most likely to test positive for an STI. Here gonorrhoea diagnoses broken down by age group are shown

Under the fresh ECDC guidance, researchers recommended people get tested for STIs, especially if they are with a new or multiple partners, in order to detect the conditions early on.

Other tips included practicing safe sex with condoms and fostering open communication around STIs with sexual partners to reduce the stigma.

Latest figures for England, released last year also show diagnoses for gonorrhea has risen to its highest level since the end of WW1.

Statistics revealed 82,592 people — including children as young as 13 — were diagnosed with the STI in England in 2022. 

The figure was 16.1 per cent up on 2019, before Covid struck, and up 50.3 per cent on 2021’s total. 

Cases of the dangerous STI syphilis, as well as THE LESS SERIOUS? chlamydia, also jumped.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents councils, has warned sexual health services in England are grappling with ‘unprecedented’ increases in demand and have urged ministers to provide them with extra funding.

What is gonorrhoea?

Gonorrhoea is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae or gonococcus. 

This bacteria is usually found in discharge from the penis or vaginal fluid.

It is passed through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, as well as sharing vibrators or sex toys that have been used without a condom.

The bacteria can infect the cervix, urethra, rectum, throat or eyes. 

It can also spread from pregnant women to their unborn babies.

As the bacteria cannot survive outside the body for long, gonorrhoea is not spread by kissing, hugging, sharing towels, toilet seats or swimming.

Around one in 10 men and half of women experience no symptoms. 

However, these can include:

  • Thick green or yellow discharge from the genitals
  • Pain when urinating
  • Bleeding between periods in women

Treatment is usually a single antibiotic injection and tablet. 

Gonorrhoea can be prevented by using condoms during sex and not sharing sex toys.

Source: NHS Choices  

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