Less syphilis inDenmark

After nearly 18 years with an increasing trend, the number of syphilis cases among men who have sex with men decreased in 2018, while the rate stagnated for heterosexuals.

Statens Serum Institut (SSI) has published the syphilis numbers for 2018 in Denmark, and they bring good news.

Syphilis has been increasing in Denmark since the turn of the millennium, but now the trend seems to have been reversed. In 2018, the number of syphilis cases in Denmark thus remained stable among heterosexual men and women alike. Furthermore, the number of cases detected among men who have sex with men (MSM) decreased.

Campaigns seem to be working

Last year, the SSI recorded a total of 526 cases of syphilis in 524 persons. The vast majority of the cases - a total of 444 (84%) occurred in men, whereas 82 (16%) occurred in women. In two cases, the same man was recorded with syphilis twice in the course of the year.

“Campaigns have been run to motivate more MSM to undergo more frequent testing for sexually transmittable infections, including HIV, syphilis and gonorrhoea. These campaigns seem to have been successful with respect to syphilis as a decrease is now observed among MSM”, notes Section Head Susan Cowan from the SSI’s Department for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Prevention. She continues:

“We hope that the offer of PrEP (medication-based HIV prophylaxis, Pre-exposure Prophylaxis), introduced in 2019, will mean that even more MSM are tested frequently for syphilis, among others, whereby infection chains will be broken more often.”

Symptom-free group

Among the 82 women who were diagnosed with syphilis in 2018, 21 (26%) were detected owing to the general pregnancy screening, which, among others, includes syphilis testing of pregnant women.

“This may indicate that a relatively large share of women are not being tested and therefore also not diagnosed with syphilis, because they are symptom free”, notes Susan Cowan.

For more information, please see EPI-NEWS 34/2019 and the 2018 Annual Report.