More sexually transmitted diseases: cases of syphilis and hepatitis B on the rise in Germany

bIf you have problems in your intimate area, going to the doctor is often more difficult than if you have a cold or gastrointestinal infection. Sometimes this can backfire. The German STI Society reports that cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), especially syphilis, are rising in Germany.

“In general, we can say that there has been an increase in the incidence of syphilis since 2000,” says Norbert Brockmeyer, president of the STI Society. Symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases are often nonspecific and only become apparent after some time. “Most STIs cause no symptoms 80 percent of the time,” Brockmeyer says.

Syphilis is not only more common in Germany

When infected with syphilis, rashes and small ulcers may appear at the site where the pathogen enters the body. In the later stages of the disease, severe damage to the nervous system and organs may occur. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the number of reported cases of syphilis has increased significantly in recent years. Since 2010, the number of cases has more than doubled, from 4,077 to 8,309 reported infections in 2022.

A similar trend is observed for hepatitis B. In 2022, 16,623 cases of infection were reported. This is almost double the number in the previous year (8,670 cases). It can take up to three months between infection with the hepatitis B virus and the onset of the disease. Symptoms such as loss of appetite, muscle and joint pain, or fatigue are often confused with the flu.

However, the number of new HIV infections remained relatively stable. In 2022, the number of reported HIV cases increased only slightly, reaching a total of 3,262 cases.

A similar trend is observed in the USA. There were 177,911 cases of syphilis reported in 2022, according to the CDC. The number of cases is increasing, especially among newborns. Last year, 3,761 children suffered from this disease. This is 32 percent more than in 2021. Ten years earlier, in 2012, only 335 newborns were infected with syphilis. By testing and promptly treating pregnant women, 90 percent of cases could be prevented, according to the CDC.

Sexual encounters are becoming easier and easier

Dating apps have become a part of the daily lives of many young people. That’s why STI Society President Brockmeyer sees a connection between the increasingly easy establishment of sexual contacts through digital media and the rise in STI cases in Germany. Condom use is stable. However, the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases is increasing among heterosexual, homosexual and bisexual people.

The incidence of certain sexually transmitted diseases depends on the group affected and depends on the corresponding sexual behavior, the number of partners and the frequency of testing, says Silke Klumb from Deutsche Aidshilfe. For example, HIV diagnoses in Germany have been declining since 2007, especially among gay and bisexual men. In total, about 90,000 people live with HIV infection in Germany. Most of them take medication so that the virus is no longer detected in the blood and they can lead a normal life.

Condoms are good protection against sexually transmitted diseases. They significantly reduce the risk of infection, but do not provide complete protection. Therefore, people who suspect they have a sexually transmitted disease should get tested immediately. Even if there are no symptoms initially, an infected person can spread the pathogen.

There are also medications, such as Doxy-PrEP, to prevent some sexually transmitted diseases, such as chlamydia and syphilis. However, these medications may have side effects. Therefore, Silke Klumb warns against the widespread use of the antibiotic Doxy-PrEP. However, hepatitis B infection can be prevented through vaccination.

STIs shouldn’t be a taboo subject

An important component of combating the spread of sexually transmitted diseases is education for all age groups, Brockmeyer said. According to the RKI, sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia predominantly affect women aged 16 to 19 years and men aged 20 to 24 years. But there are also sometimes high numbers of cases among people over 55 to 60 years old, Brockmeyer says.

However, STIs are often stigmatized and underreported. This easily leads to misunderstandings and ignorance. For example, many people estimate their own risk of contracting an STI to be much lower than it actually is. “Although chlamydial infection is the most common bacterial STI in adolescents and young adults, only eight percent of those surveyed rate the risk as (absolutely) likely,” emphasizes Johannes Breuer from the Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA).

Therefore, it is important to be able to talk openly about sexually transmitted diseases and their risks. “All people should have the knowledge and ability to take good care of themselves and their sexual health,” says Breuer. “This includes supportive health promotion and prevention offerings.”

Source: Frantfurter Allgemeine

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