Health authorities in the Helsinki-Uusimaa region are raising the alarm as reported sexually transmitted infections (STIs) continue to surge, with gonorrhea cases showing a particularly stark increase.
The incidence of gonorrhea in Finland has doubled since 2021. There were nearly 1,000 cases recorded in 2022 and an equal number by September of this year, with two-thirds occurring within the HUS (Helsinki University Hospital) area.
Of those infected, one-third are women, with the under-25 age group notably affected. Gonorrhea cases among men have also increased, especially in those over 25. The infections are common in sexual encounters between men.
Chlamydia remains the most prevalent STI in Finland, with over 16,000 cases reported annually, of which approximately a third originate from the Uusimaa region. A steady rise in chlamydia infections has been noted for years, predominantly affecting young adults. While young women have been primarily impacted, there is now a noticeable uptick in cases among men as well.
Multiple factors contribute to the spike in infections
The increase in STI cases can be attributed to several factors. Gonorrhea and chlamydia can often be asymptomatic, detectable only through STI screening.
"The rise in STI cases could be due to asymptomatic individuals not getting tested and consequently continuing to spread the infection to sexual partners. Infections in the throat and anus often remain undetected as they typically do not present symptoms and can be easily missed if potential routes of infection are not assessed prior to testing," says Eija Hiltunen-Back, a specialist in dermatology and venereology.
The number of individuals using HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has grown in recent years. While PrEP effectively protects against HIV, it does not prevent other STIs, potentially giving a false sense of security and leading to reduced condom use. Regular STI testing is a crucial part of PrEP treatment, enabling the early detection of infections.
Untreated STIs pose a risk of infertility
Untreated gonorrhea and chlamydia can lead to infertility, a consequence that may not become apparent until years later. The treatment of gonorrhea is becoming increasingly challenging due to the bacteria's evolving resistance to current antibiotics. Resistant strains have been identified in several European countries. Now, a combination of two antibiotics is the standard treatment, and antibiotic susceptibility is closely monitored.
"To prevent the spread of STIs, it's essential for those infected to inform their sexual partners. The use of condoms and oral protection remains the only reliable method to prevent STI transmission," emphasizes Eeva Ruotsalainen, Deputy Chief Physician in Infectious Diseases. Public health campaigns stress the importance of safe sex practices and regular testing as key strategies in curbing the rising STI trend.