Experts advise cautious approach to summer fun as drug-resistant STDs increase globally


The World Health Organization announced at the end of May that there were “major concern[s]” over a dramatic increase in Sexually Transmitted Infections across the globe.

The WHO report found that chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis and trichomoniasis were responsible for over 1 million daily infections among people aged between 15-49 years.

Syphilis in particular has become a major cause of health concern with cases having increased from 7.1 million in 2020 to 8 million in 2022. 

A banana wearing a condom. (credit: CREATIVE COMMONS)

Additionally, mother-to-foetus syphilis infections, known as congenital syphilis, are also on the rise. Between 2020 and 2022, the rate per 100,000 live births per year rose from 425 to 523, according to the WHO.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released in early 2024 mirrored the findings of the WHO, according to ABC News. The report found that the total number of syphilis cases increased by over 17% between 2021 and 2022 – this is the greatest number of cases reported since 1950, ABC News claimed.

people holding red condom (credit: INGIMAGE)

Israel has also seen a rise in the infection, prompting worries among healthcare professionals.

Drug-resistant STIs

Another “concern” the WHO report brought to light was the increased number of cases of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhoea. In nine different countries the rate of ceftriaxone-resistant strain increased from 5% to 40%. 

“The rising incidence of syphilis raises major concerns,” WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. “Fortunately, there has been important progress on a number of other fronts including in accelerating access to critical health commodities including diagnostics and treatment.”

The drug resistant-STI has was identified in the UK, the government announced in 2022.

Dr Katy Sinka, STI Section Head at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA,) said: “After a couple of years without any cases of this hard to treat form of gonorrhoea, we have now seen 4 cases in the last 2 months. It’s too soon to say whether this will be the start of a longer-term trend, but we do know that STIs are on the rise in general.

“Getting an STI isn’t as simple as taking some medicine and moving on with your life – if not properly treated, they can have long term impacts on your and your partner’s health. Adding antibiotic resistance into the mix makes the impact on your life even greater.

“There are simple steps you can take to reduce your risk of gonorrhoea and other STIs. Use condoms consistently and correctly with all new or casual partners, test regularly for STIs and if you have any symptoms such as unusual discharge, don’t have sex until you are tested.”

“We have the tools required to end these epidemics as public health threats by 2030, but we now need to ensure that, in the context of an increasingly complex world, countries do all they can to achieve the ambitious targets they set themselves,” the statement continued.

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