Published On: Thu, May 19th, 2016

The Return of Syphilis

V0017232 Syphilis. Gouache by Richard Tennant Cooper,   1912.

New data released in ECDC’s Annual Epidemiological report show that since 2010, the overall syphilis rates have been going up across Europe, particularly among men. In 2014, the reported syphilis numbers were six times higher in men than in women. Almost two-thirds (63 percent) of the syphilis cases reported with information on transmission category were recorded in men who have sex with men (MSM).

 Syphilis rates also rose for both genders in every region of the U.S. in 2014. The rate of reported primary and secondary syphilis (the earliest symptomatic stages of the disease) increased by 15.1 percent from 2013 to 2014, to 6.3 cases per 100, 000 people. The rate of reported congenital syphilis (passed by an infected mother to her child during pregnancy) increased by 27.5 percent, to 11.6 cases per 100, 000 live births.

In 29 EU/EEA Member States (no data from Austria and Liechtenstein) in 2014, 24 541 syphilis cases were reported, resulting in an overall rate of 5.1 per 100 000 population. The majority of infections were reported in people older than 25 years while young people between 15 and 24 accounted for only 13 percent of cases.


Portrait of Gerard de Lairesse by Rembrandt 1665–67 a painter and art theorist,   had congenital syphilis that deformed his face and eventually blinded him. - Wikimedia Commons


Between 2010 and 2014, many countries, particularly in western Europe, saw a sharp upsurge in the number of reported syphilis infections, with increases of over 50 percent in Belgium, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Norway, Portugal and the United Kingdom. While the data show a marked increase of syphilis cases among men across Europe, cases among women have decreased.

Largest increase among those aged 45 and over. Between 2005 and 2014, 208 134 cases of syphilis were reported in 30 countries. Over this decade, the proportion of cases among age groups below 35 years went down, while they went up among those aged 35 years or over. The largest increases were seen in those aged 45 years or over: their proportion rose from 18 percent to 30 percent.


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