Chief Epidemioligist Wants Condoms in Primary Schools

Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist Þórólfur Guðnason wants condoms to be distributed in primary schools in an effort to stop the spread of STIs, RÚV reports. Recent research has shown that there are more cases of syphilis in Iceland proportionally than anywhere else in Europe. Chlamydia is also relatively common in Iceland compared to other countries in the region.

According to a new report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, Iceland has a rate of syphilis diagnosis of 15.4 of every 100,000 residents. Of all European countries, Iceland’s rate is proportionally the highest. If left untreated, the sexually transmitted infection can cause disorders of the heart, brain, and nervous system.

Syphylis, gonnorhoea rates rise

The number of syphilis diagnoses in Iceland has fluctuated significantly in recent years. While it dropped in 2011 and 2013, it showed a large increase in 2017 with 52 diagnoses. In 2018, 30 were diagnosed with the STI.

“Sex has become freer and people are not using condoms. That’s really the only explanation for this,” stated Þórólfur. “Other sexually transmitted diseases have increased in Iceland as well, such as gonorrhoea. And the frequency of chlamydia is high here, probably the highest in Europe.”

According to Þórólfur, chlamydia rates are highest in Iceland among those between 18-25. Syphilis, on the other hand, is more common among homosexual men, as is the case elsewhere abroad. “It is worth noting that the increase here [in syphilis diagnoses] has primarily been explained by the migration of people to Iceland, foreigners,” Þórólfur adds, “which has raised these numbers.”

Parents oppose condoms in primary schools

Þórólfur wants to see condoms distributed in primary schools as well as secondary schools to prevent the spread of STIs. “There are many who are opposed to that, many parents,” he says. “But we need to discuss this very well and we need to do everything we can to stop the spread of these diseases, which can be very serious. People can have chlamydia and have few symptoms or be asymptomatic. But the access here to diagnosis and treatment is very good. There has been much talk about bringing screening, research, and diagnosis out into society, to at-risk groups. There are debates about doing that, and that’s one part of trying to find as many people as possible in the early stages so they don’t infect others.”

More HIV, Less Chlamydia Diagnoses in 2018

The number of people who were diagnosed with HIV in Iceland last year is considerably higher than in previous years, RÚV reports. According to the Directorate of Health’s newsletter, where this statistic was published on Thursday, there was also an increase in gonorrhea diagnoses in 2018. There were, however, fewer instances of chlamydia and syphilis infection last year.

Thirty-nine people were diagnosed with HIV in 2018. This is a noteworthy increase, in that in 2017 and 2016 combined, there were fewer than 30 people diagnosed with the virus, and only 10 people were diagnosed in 2015 and 2014 combined. The majority of the individuals infected in 2018, or 30 out of 39, are of foreign origin. Iceland’s Chief Epidemiologist believes that five of the individuals infected last year were infected in Iceland. Seventeen were infected via sexual intercourse, two via intravenous drug use, and there was one instance of in utero transmission abroad.

Just over 100 people were diagnosed with gonorrhea in Iceland last year. 80% of these infections occurred in Iceland, and 80% of those diagnosed were men. According to the Directorate of Health’s newsletter, gonorrhea bacteria that are multiply resistant to antibiotics is a growing problem abroad, and it’s only a matter of time before it becomes a problem in Iceland as well.

There were, happily, some positive trends concerning STI transmission last year. Thirty people were diagnosed with syphilis in 2018. This is below the previous average of 40 cases of infection, which held in 2017 as well. In previous years, there was a dramatic gender gap in diagnoses. For instance, 90% of people diagnosed with the disease were men in 2015. Last year, however, 60% of people diagnosed were men. There was also an even split between Icelanders and people of foreign origin who were diagnosed with syphilis in 2018. Previously, the majority of people diagnosed were Icelandic.

Chlamydia is also on the decline in Iceland. 1,634 people were diagnosed with the infection last year, versus 2,197 in 2017. It is possible, however, that this large drop is because not all instances of the infection were reported. Women make up a slightly higher percentage of the diagnoses, or 54%.