Sounding the alarm: France sees explosion in syphilis cases

In the past few years, France has seen a steep rise in sexually transmitted infections, but there is one in particular that is rising at an alarming rate: syphilis. Experts are worried. Due to the ongoing fight against HIV, syphilis has long been relegated to a much less talked about second place in French public health policy. In the meantime, the number of syphilis cases has exploded, soaring by 110 percent between 2020 and 2022.

On the eve of Valentine’s Day, Martin* received a piece of particularly bad news from a friend: "I've just been tested, and you're the only person I have had unprotected sex with. Voilà, I have syphilis now."

Martin rushed off to get tested: He tested positive. Once he had gotten over the shock, he quickly went through his list of sexual partners and remembered a recent encounter with a woman with whom he had not used protection. After a brief exchange, she confirmed she had syphilis and had been a carrier for some time. But just like Martin, she had preferred taking the risk rather than having protected sex.

Martin’s case is not unique. According to a report issued by the French health authority Santé Publique in December, sexually transmitted bacterial infections (namely, chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis, as opposed to HIV, which is a virus) rose sharply in mainland France between 2020 and 2022.

With more than 207,000 cases diagnosed in 2022, the last year for which data is available, the US now has an infection rate of 17 cases per 100,000 inhabitants – an increase of 80 percent since 2018.

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