Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are increasing their presence in Spain. The latest data made public by the National Epidemiological Surveillance Network (RENAVE) and the Carlos III Health Institute (ISCIII) indicate that the highest number of infections in the last 25 years has been reached. This group of diseases includes all infections that are acquired after having unprotected sex with an already infected person. The best known are syphilis, HIV, papilloma, gonorrhea, chlamydia or hepatitis, among others.
The decrease in the use of condoms, the exponential increase in the number of sexual relations and the lack of fear of AIDS are some of the causes that explain this increase in cases of infections in recent years. It should not be forgotten that part of the increase is also due to the better functioning of the Spanish health system, in which each of the autonomous communities has improved the efficiency of data collection.
More than thirty years ago, there was a period of widespread fear of AIDS, which led to increased sensitivity to what was then a deadly disease, and the result was a drop in the number of infections. The Ministry of Health, for example, carried out a campaign to raise awareness of the need to use condoms as the main protective barrier against infection. It was the 'Put it on, put it on' campaign that became very popular and resulted in a significant drop in the number of infections.
Now Sexually Transmitted Infections are constantly growing and there is no clear plan to combat this increase effectively. Data from the Ministry of Health are updated up to 2019 for most diseases in this group, except for HIV, for which data is available up to 2021. The trend shows that while HIV is reducing its presence, other infections such as gonorrhea, syphilis or chlamydiosis have increased the number of cases for more than a decade. Despite the fact that they occur more in men (65%), the spectacular increase in cases in women is striking, with an increase of more than 1,000%, according to data provided by Bloom, a women's health observatory, relating to the period 2012-2019. .
Regarding AIDS, fortunately the number of infections is decreasing and its effects are less and less negative thanks to the treatments that have turned this plague into a chronic disease. Even now there are preventive medicines, such as the morning-before pill, called PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), which prevents a possible infection when risky practices are to be carried out. This positive development seems to have created a false sense of security, and could be at the root of the increase in the number of infections of other sexually transmitted diseases.
A similar trend can be seen in the United States. The STI cases registered during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 logically showed a decrease, but they grew again towards the end of the year. Gonorrhea, syphilis, and congenital syphilis cases exceeded 2019 levels. Specifically, gonorrhea and syphilis cases increased by 10% and 7%, respectively, compared to 2019. Syphilis among newborns (congenital) grew by 15 % compared to 2019 and 235% since 2016.
The analysis of these data implies the need to make the population aware of the importance of taking preventive measures. To prevent sexually transmitted diseases it is crucial to maintain safe sexual relations through the use of the male or female condom, since it is the most effective method. Also avoid ejaculation in the mouth as it is another important route of infection.