Syphilis cases have skyrocketed in Europe with reported cases up 70% since 2010, a new report has claimed.
Experts from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said between 2010 and 2017 rates of the sexually transmitted disease more than doubled in Iceland, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Germany and Malta.
Syphilis, caused by a bacterium, can cause serious complications. It typically starts with a painless sore that eventually heals. After initial symptoms, a person can develop a rash and flu-like symptoms.
The infection can last for decades even after the symptoms pass.
Syphilis can increase the risk of transmitting HIV, and in pregnant women, the infection can lead to foetal loss or stillbirth.
In 2010 there were 18,829 reported cases in the EU plus Iceland and Norway.
By 2017, that figure had risen to 33,193 cases even though Austria and Greece did not submit any data.
The increase was mainly driven by cases reported among men, said the ECDC, which is based in Stockholm.
Increases in cases among heterosexual partners included several factors such as unprotected sex, multiple sex partners, and substance abuse.
Other factors included "several social vulnerabilities such as poverty, homelessness, ethnic minority, migrant or refugee status," the study said.
“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,” Andrew Amato-Gauci, an ECDC expert on sexually transmitted infections told Reuters.
The United Kingdom had particularly high rates of syphilis. In 2007, there were 3,561 cases, but in 2017, there were 7,798 cases of the sexually transmitted disease. Only Malta and Iceland had higher numbers of cases per 100,000 people.
Last year, numbers released by Public Health England showed there was a 20% increase in syphilis from 2016 to 2017.