Syphilis on the rise despite pandemic

By Dr. Dorothea Flogger
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Syphilis on the rise despite pandemic
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In Milan, surprisingly, the figures increased

At the beginning of 2020, virtually nothing will work in northern Italy. The Corona pandemic has this part of the country in particular in its grip. The government in Rome is therefore imposing contact bans and curfews. The calculation behind it: The fewer contacts people have with each other, the less chance the virus has of spreading. But how can it be that in Milan in northern Italy, of all places, the venereal disease syphilis is on the rise despite a pandemic? At least, that’s what a recent study suggests.


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Syphilis trotz Pandemie auf dem VormarschSyphilis despite pandemic – how can this be?

Fewer contacts, less sex, fewer STDs transmitted. Sounds logical. Fewer contacts would necessarily lead to fewer unprotected sexual encounters. So if everyone had complied with the measures prescribed by the government, the number of STDs or new infections should also have decreased. In fact, however, the opposite is true. According to a study by the IRCCS Foundation ‘s National Cancer Institute in Milan, syphilis cases actually increased in April compared to last year – from 32 to 44. Syphilis despite pandemic? How can that be? The study’s lead author, Marco Cusini, suspects it’s related to younger people being less at risk from corona. STDs would typically be more prevalent among those around 30 years of age.

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According to these figures, one can therefore confidently assume that younger people around 30 have adhered less strictly to the ordered lockdown. They apparently managed to meet other people and have sex with them relatively easily despite closed bars and clubs. As a consequence, it is logical that syphilis could increase despite the pandemic. To be sure, the researchers who did the study only looked at the numbers at a single hospital in Milan. The figures are nevertheless revealing, even if they can only be applied to the entire region to a limited extent.

Syphilis despite pandemic? Is it possibly an outlier?

However, it is of course also possible that the study is an isolated case, a so-called outlier, so to speak. This would fit in with a trend that has been observed worldwide for years. Indeed, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the decline around the globe. Experts in Germany therefore tend to assume that this trend will intensify with the start of the lockdown in March 2020. From the point of view of these scientists, syphilis despite a pandemic should indeed be the exception and not the rule.

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But what does this mean for those responsible in northern Italy, specifically in Milan, where at least one hospital has registered an increase in cases? Well, they can probably assume that a not-insignificant percentage of younger people didn’t really adhere to the lockdown. In order to prevent syphilis in the future despite the pandemic, it will probably be necessary to rework this. Better yet, educate more precisely about the dangers.


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