STIs including syphilis, gonorrhea on the rise globally: WHO

The number of new syphilis cases increased to 8 million in 2022, according to the report.

The number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) around the world is increasing and is a “major concern” for health officials, according to a new report released Tuesday by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The report found that four curable STIs (chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and trichomoniasis) are responsible for more than 1 million daily infections among adults ages 15 to 49. Syphilis cases, in particular, have increased rapidly.

According to the report, the number of new syphilis cases among adults aged 15 to 49 increased from 7.1 million in 2020 to 8 million in 2022.

There have also been increases in the rate of congenital syphilis, which occurs when a baby is born with the infection after the mother passed it on during pregnancy. Between 2020 and 2022, the rate per 100,000 live births per year increased from 425 to 523.

Global trends mirror those observed in the United States. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released earlier this year found that the total number of syphilis cases increased more than 17% to 207,255 between 2021 and 2022, reaching the highest number of reported cases since 1950.

The report also found that cases of antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea are increasing, which was called another “concern.” In 2023, nine countries reported high levels (5% to 40%) of resistance to ceftriaxone, which is considered a last-line treatment for gonorrhea.

The data points to a lack of detection of the rise in STIs, as well as other problems, including lack of access to care. Additionally, disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic likely delayed screening for many.

“The increasing incidence of syphilis raises major concerns,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. “Fortunately, there have been important advances on several other fronts, including accelerating access to critical health products, including diagnosis and treatment.”

“We have the tools necessary to end these epidemics as public health threats by 2030, but we must now ensure that, in the context of an increasingly complex world, countries do everything possible to achieve the ambitious goals we they noticed,” he said. The statement continued.

Not all trends showed an upward trajectory: In 2022, the number of people newly infected with HIV worldwide fell from 1.5 million to 1.3 million, according to the report. However, the WHO notes that certain populations (men who have sex with men; men who have sex with men; people who inject drugs; sex workers; transgender people; and those currently in prisons and other closed settings) continue to see disproportionately affected by HIV.

In a press release, WHO noted that progress has been made in scaling up STI, HIV and hepatitis services and that several countries have eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV and/or syphilis.

To reduce rates, the report outlines some recommendations, including accelerating efforts to decriminalize and destigmatize those affected by STIs and other infections, as well as strengthening the focus on primary prevention, diagnosis and treatment to raise awareness about the STIs and infections.