According to data provided by the ProyectoScopio barometer and the Bloom observatory of women’s health, both located in Spain, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) such as syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia have experienced a significant increase in the last five to ten years. These diseases were close to extinction in this country until the year 2000, but now cases have multiplied by four.
This increase has occurred in part due to the decreased concern and attention paid to STIs after the introduction of antiretrovirals to treat HIV/AIDS and medications for its prevention, among many other factors. This has led to a neglect in prevention practices and a decrease in awareness about STIs in general.
But before we delve further into the resurgence of STIs, you might wonder: What are the most common STIs and how are they transmitted? What are the risk factors? Should I talk to my partner about these types of infections and how to treat them? All of this is addressed in our previous article on STIs: Debunking Myths and Stigmas. But if you want to learn in more detail, we invite you to stay because we’ll tell you everything you need to know to understand the best steps you can take to avoid these still relatively unknown infections.
These diseases were close to extinction in this country until the year 2000, but now cases have multiplied by four.
Are STIs Really That Serious?
If you’re already read the previous article, you’ll know that everything has a solution, and to some extent, that’s true. If you don’t treat an STI, it can lead to serious complications such as pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, damage to reproductive organs, increased risk of contracting other infections, higher risk of transmitting the infection to others, and an elevated risk of certain types of cancer, such as cervical cancer.
You might think, “Ah! So it’s as simple as following the treatment.” Well, the reality is that it’s not, and this is where the problematic nuance of the phrase “everything has a solution” comes in: the ultra-resistant infections. Even though it may sound like something out of a post-apocalyptic movie, we’re already experiencing it, and it’s more concerning than it seems. There’s a series of superbugs that don’t respond to the antibiotics we have available, and among them are some STIs.
Superbugs are strains of bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi that have developed resistance to most antibiotics and other commonly used drugs to treat infections caused by STIs.
Drug resistance, also known as antimicrobial resistance, is a natural phenomenon that cannot be stopped but can be slowed down. Over time, microorganisms adapt to drugs designed to eliminate them by changing their composition to ensure their survival. And which STI is part of this supergroup? “Super gonorrhea.”
Among the reasons that have led to the increase in the emergence and spread of this strain are taking antibiotics inappropriately or incorrectly and not implementing proper infection prevention and control practices. And that’s precisely where we’re going to focus.
Self-medication as an Enemy of Health
Not taking antibiotics as recommended by a specialist can have several negative consequences. In the case of gonorrhea, a bacterial infection, antibiotics like azithromycin or ciprofloxacin are often very effective, but if the instructions are not followed correctly, self-medication can lead to:
1. Persistent or recurrent infections: If the full prescribed course of antibiotics is not completed, it’s possible that the bacteria or microorganism causing the infection may not be completely eliminated. This can lead to a relapse of the infection or its persistence in the body, requiring additional and prolonged treatment.
2. Antimicrobial resistance: Antimicrobial resistance is one of the most serious consequences of inappropriate antibiotic use. When antibiotics are not taken as directed, bacteria can survive and become resistant to the medication. These resistant bacteria can multiply and spread, making their treatment more difficult in the future. This limits effective treatment options and can lead to more severe and prolonged infections.
3. Increased disease burden: Antimicrobial resistance can result in more difficult-to-treat infections, which can prolong the duration of the illness and increase the burden on the patient. Additionally, resistant infections may require the use of stronger and more expensive antibiotics, as well as other more intensive medical treatments.
4. Higher risk of complications: Untreated or inadequately treated infections can lead to serious complications. For example, an improperly treated infection can spread to other parts of the body, cause permanent organ damage, or lead to sepsis (a potentially fatal systemic inflammatory response).
5. Impact on health: Antimicrobial resistance not only affects individuals but also has a significant impact on health. The spread of resistant bacteria can occur in communities, hospitals, and other healthcare settings, making infection control more challenging and potentially endangering other vulnerable individuals.
All of this has led to a situation in Spain where the majority of young people believe they have sufficient information about sexual health, but according to 2021 health statistics in Spain, 88.7% are unaware of different STIs and 17.6% don’t know the methods of HIV transmission. As a result, sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise and mainly affect young people. In fact, 75% of STI infections last year were contracted by individuals under the age of 34, making this age group the most vulnerable.
Why Does It Seem Like Young People Aren’t Concerned?
In many places, sexual education doesn’t comprehensively and adequately address STIs and their prevention. The lack of information leads young people to be unaware of the risks and consequences of STIs. In many Western countries, almost all campaigns have focused on the risks for gay men, while the heterosexual population was believed to be immune.
In this regard, there are misconceptions or myths about STIs that can lead young people to underestimate the risk. Some might think that certain sexual practices are safe or that only certain groups of people are at risk. This results in a portion of the young population basing their confidence on the appearance of their sexual partners or the fact that they don’t appear to have an STI, which can lead to ignoring the need for protection.
Similarly, young people tend to build a false sense of invulnerability, a cognitive bias that distorts our perception of risks and threats in our lives, and it applies to their belief that the risk of contracting an STI is low or that it won’t happen to them.
The resurgence of these STIs represents a serious health problem, as they can have severe consequences if not treated properly. It’s important that we are aware of the significance of maintaining safe sexual practices, using proper protection, and getting regular screening tests to detect and treat STIs in a timely manner.
The increase in STI cases serves as a reminder of the importance of not letting our guard down when it comes to prevention and taking care of our sexual health. It’s essential to stay informed about STIs and the measures we can take to protect ourselves and our sexual partners. To achieve this, addressing these factors requires comprehensive sexual education that includes information about STIs, their consequences, and how to prevent them.
Unidad de vigilancia de VIH, ITS y hepatitis B y C. Vigilancia epidemiológica de las infecciones de transmisión sexual, 2021. Centro Nacional de Epidemiología, Instituto de Salud Carlos III/División de Control de VIH, ITS, Hepatitis virales y Tuberculosis, Dirección General de Salud Pública; 2023
Author: Andrés Suro (Sexual Coach at MYHIXEL)
Psychologist specialized in the social area and expert in sexology applied to education.
PS: Remember you can book a private consultation with me at MYHIXEL CLINIC. Book your appointment here.