Early detection key to stopping Syphilis

SexualHealthCantabrians who have unprotected sex or who have multiple sex partners are being urged to get a sexual health check for Christmas.

The health advice follows the release of the 2014 Institute of Environmental Science and Research Limited sexually transmitted infections surveillance report, which shows relatively high levels of syphilis in Canterbury.

According to the report the annual number of infectious syphilis cases reported by Sexual Health Clinics (SHCs) in New Zealand has increased from 82 in 2013 to 140 cases last year. The highest case numbers of syphilis in SHCs were seen in the Auckland region (85 cases) and Canterbury DHB (27 cases).

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Ramon Pink, says the increase is partly due to dating apps leading to a rise in unprotected sexual encounters. “There was a big spike in Canterbury a few years ago with the number reported cases increasing from 8 in 2010 to 29 in 2012. Since then the number of cases has remained stable, with 28 cases reported in 2013 and 27 cases in 2014,” Dr Pink says.

He says syphilis can often go undiagnosed because those infected do not notice any obvious symptoms. Of the 121 syphilis cases reported amongst gay and bisexual men in 2014, only 37 percent reported symptoms. “The majority of people reporting with syphilis have no symptoms. This can mean people become complacent about the risks and end up spreading it unknowingly,” Dr Pink says.

Sexual Health Physician at the Christchurch Sexual Health Centre Dr Heather Young, says syphilis can produce a painless sore on your penis, in your anus or in your mouth 10 to 90 days after infection. The sore usually turns into a scab and heals after two to six weeks, but the infection remains.

“If you don’t get treatment it may progress to secondary syphilis which can produce a generalised rash, often on palms or soles of the feet,” Dr Young says. “If left untreated, syphilis can cause damage to your nerves, bones, skin, eyes and brain.”

While nearly all reported cases are male, health officials are concerned about the impact of it spreading to the female population. “It’s particularly dangerous for pregnant women as syphilis can cause congenital defects,” Dr Young says.

Syphilis is easily treatable, but needs to be diagnosed. Condom use, partner reduction, screening, treatment and contact tracing can reduce transmission.

Sexual health checks are available at your general practice, local sexual health clinic, the New Zealand Aids Foundation, and Family Planning.

Published on Wednesday, December 16th, 2015, under Uncategorised
Page last updated: 22/03/2016

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