Germany is facing an increase in some sexually transmitted infections. What factors play a role in transmission and how can it be prevented?
One cough and many people start to panic. They make tea, take throat lozenges and see the doctor. But when it comes to a symptom below the waist… there is often an uncomfortable silence.
The German Society of Sexually Transmitted Diseases reports increasing cases of STDs in Germany, especially syphilis. “Overall, you can say that syphilis has been increasing since 2000. Then there were 800 cases, today there are over 8,000“, explains Norbert Brockmeier, President of the German Society for Sexual Health. Syphilis manifests itself with rashes and, in the final stages, with severe damage to organs and the nervous system.
Cases of hepatitis B and syphilis are on the rise
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) recorded an increase in reported cases of syphilis from 5,330 in 2013 to 8,309 in 2022 and for hepatitis B from 715 to 16,635 cases. The number of new HIV infections has remained stable at around 1,800 cases per year.
A similar trend is occurring in the United States with syphilis. The US CDC recently reported a sharp increase in syphilis cases in newborns. More than 3,700 babies were affected last year, ten times more than a decade ago – a 32% increase from 2021. The CDC emphasizes that 90% of these cases could have been prevented through screening and treatment of mothers during duration of pregnancy.
Changing dynamics of sexual contact
Brockmeier attributes the increase in STD cases in Germany to the ease of having sex through digital media. Although condom use is stable, the rate of STIs is increasing among heterosexuals as well as gay and bisexual people. “One can have sexual intercourse digitally and therefore faster”, explains Brockmeier.
Zilke Klub from the German aid organization for Aids carriers notes that the frequency of some STDs depends on the blood type, is influenced by sexual behavior, the number of partners and the frequency of testing. For example, the number of HIV diagnoses in Germany, especially among gay and bisexual men, has been declining since 2007.
Prevention strategies and challenges
Different strategies are needed for prevention. Condoms offer great protection against STDs. There is also the option of vaccination against certain infections such as hepatitis B. People who are suspected of having an STD should be tested to prevent the spread of the disease. In addition, there are medications such as Doxy-PrEP, an antibiotic used to prevent certain STDs, such as chlamydia and syphilis, that can be taken by people who have frequent unprotected sex.
So-called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can also be taken to prevent HIV infections. However, this often means that condoms are not used and the risk of other STDs increases again. Zilke Klub warns against widespread use of Doxy-PrEP, including because of its cost and side effects.
Need for education and awareness
“Ta Most STDs do not cause symptoms, at least 80% of the timesays Brockmeier. As a result, many do not go to the doctor. Practical solutions, such as HIV home tests or self-collection kits, which should be accessible through online stores and health authorities, are very important.
Misconceptions and myths about STIs are many and common. As a result, many people estimate that their personal risk of becoming infected is significantly lower than it actually is. “Although chlamydia infection is the most common bacterial STD among teenagers and young adults, only 8% of respondents rate the risk of contracting it as likely“, emphasizes Johannes Breuer from the Federal Center for Health Education (BZgA).
Removing STI taboos and raising awareness is therefore essential. “All people should have the knowledge and opportunity to properly care for themselves and their sexual health. This includes supportive offers for health promotion and prevention».
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