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Stockholm - The number of syphilis cases in Europe has reached a new high, a regional health agency said Friday, attributing the increase to more risky sexual behaviour.

In 2017, about 33 100 cases were reported, the Stockholm-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said, citing its most recent data from 28 European countries.

The agency said that marked a 70-per-cent rise in reported cases since 2010. Most of the cases affected men who have sex with men and live in urban areas.

Reported syphilis rates were nine times higher in men than in women and peaked among men aged 25 to 34, according to the agency.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a bacterium. If left untreated, it can result in severe health problems.

Factors that have contributed to the rise in syphilis infections across Europe and other parts of the world include "people having sex without condoms and multiple sexual partners combined with a reduced fear of acquiring HIV," said Andrew Amato-Gauci of the ECDC.

The upward trend in Europe has been consistent since 2010.

The proportion of cases diagnosed among men who have sex with men ranged from below 20 per cent in Latvia, Lithuania and Romania to over 80 per cent in Britain, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden, the ECDC said.

ECDC recommended the use of condoms with new and casual sex partners, as well as regular testing, as ways to prevent infection.

dpa