Sciensano & Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)

Last updated on 22-2-2023 by Charlien Hupko

The use of a condom is essential to protect yourself and your partners against STDs. If you have any concerns, you should have an STD screening test. In the event of an infection, follow the treatment correctly and inform your sexual partner/partners.

What does Sciensano do?

Sciensano compiles 2 reports each year documenting the evolution of STDs in Belgium.

The reports are based on information provided by data-collection networks:

All STIs are monitored by the network of clinicians, but only Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are monitored by the sentinel network of microbiological laboratories.

The reports are made public and transmitted to the authorities that can re-evaluate the policy for controlling and preventing STIs. 

The HIV infection is an STI, but it has a specific surveillance network. 

Sentinel network of microbiological laboratories

The sentinel network of microbiological laboratories was founded by the ISP in 1983 by the “Epidemiology of infectious diseases” unit.

It provides a way to gain insight into the number of cases of Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis with additional data on age, gender, place of residence, the type of sample and the diagnostic process used. 

This epidemiological data makes it possible to establish the trends in and the evolution of STDs in Belgium.

The network covers 60% of STD registration activities at a national and regional level.

In Belgium, 99 out of the 178 microbiology laboratories are part of the network of sentinel laboratories:

  • 54 out of 95 laboratories (57%) in Flanders 
  • 10 out of 17 laboratories (59%) in Brussels 
  • 35 out of 66 laboratories (53%) in Wallonia.

Sentinel network of clinicians

Since 2000, the sentinel network of clinicians run by the “Epidemiology of infectious diseases” unit describes the characteristics of people suffering from an STD and the factors that increase the risk of transmission of an STD

The participating doctors are gynaecologists, dermatologists, general practitioners, internists, urologists; and in addition family planning centres, sexual health clinics and student medical centres. Participation is on a voluntary basis. 

The following STDs are monitored: 

  • Chlamydia (Chlamydia trachomatis
  • Gonorrhea (Neisseria gonorrhoeae
  • Trichomoniasis (Trichomonas vaginalis)
  • Genital herpes (Herpes simplex
  • Syphilis (Treponema pallidum
  • HPV (Human papillomavirus
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (infection of the uterus, the fallopian tubes or the ovaries)
  • Lymphogranuloma venereum or Durand-Nicolas-Favre disease
  • Mycoplasma genitalium.

Hepatitis B and C are only mentioned in the event of sexual contamination. 

Since 2013, general practitioners’ surgeries (sentinel network of general practitioners) have been integrated into the sentinel network of clinicians. They record any new episodes of Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and condyloma (HPV).

National Reference Centre for STDs

The National Reference Centre for STDs, hosted by the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, carries out molecular surveillance of the bacteria Treponema pallidum (syphilis) Chlamydia trachomatis (Chlamydia), Neisseria gonorrhoeae (gonorrhea) and Mycoplasma genitalium.

It analyses the genetic type (serotyping) of strains of bacteria in circulation and determines which ones are no longer circulating. This enables it to predict potential epidemics. 

For example, for STIs, the NRC monitors the prevalence of different strains of the bacterium that causes Chlamydia as well as the level of resistance to antibiotics of the bacterium that causes gonorrhea (Neisseria gonorrhoeae).

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