EU health watchdog issues STI warning ahead of summer festival season

The crowd cheer as Coldplay perform during the 2016 Glastonbury Festival held at Worthy Farm, in Pilton near Glastonbury
Millions of revellers could put themselves at risk when inhibitions lower - Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Experts have warned the number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) will skyrocket in Europe this summer as young people flock to the continent for holidays, parties and festivals.

With festival season around the corner – a time when music, mud, and hormones collide – health experts are concerned that Europe’s top summer hotspots will serve as breeding grounds for diseases already circulating at record-breaking levels.

In a statement issued this week, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) urged travellers to practice safe sex, as STIs like gonorrhoea, syphilis, and chlamydia hit an all-time high.

Gonorrhoea cases across Europe went up by 48 per cent in 2022 compared to the previous year, data released by the ECDC in March revealed, whilst chlamydia and syphilis rates increased by 18 and 34 per cent respectively.

But with festivals like Sziget, Tomorrowland, and Primavera just around the corner – all of which attract close to half a million party-goers – getting infection rates under control will prove difficult.

Drug-resistance fears

The health agency encouraged young people to use protection, as well as engage in regular testing – regardless of whether they have symptoms.

Men who have sex with men are particularly at risk, the ECDC said, as mpox continues to circulate throughout the region, with 203 new infections recorded since March.

Gay and bisexual were also told to take extra precautions – including the use of disposable gloves during sex – to prevent the spread of diseases like Shigella and Hepatitis A.

Although neither infection is considered an STI, they can be spread through sexual contact.

Untreated shigella can cause the colon to rupture and cause peritonitis, a life-threatening condition requiring emergency surgery, whilst Hepatitis A can result in liver failure.

Chlamydia and gonorrhoea can both result in infertility and chronic pain, whilst syphilis can lead to death, multiple organ failure, brain, eye, and nerve damage, and destruction of bones and joints – all of which can happen even decades after the initial infection.

Decreased condom usage, riskier sexual behaviours, and a diversion of public health spending away from sexual health – made worse by the pandemic – have all contribute to rising case numbers across Europe.

Public health experts also fear that the emergence of drug-resistant infections like ‘super gonorrhoea’ might further complicate public health efforts to decrease the burden of STIs.

So far, drug-resistant strains of gonorrhoea have been found in over fifty countries, including Denmark, Austria, France, and the UK.

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