Syphilis screening to be ramped up as congenital cases re-emerge

SCREENING for the sexually transmitted infection syphilis is set to become more common, with an increase in cases in recent years.

Congenital syphilis re-emerged last year after 14 years, claiming the life of one baby.

Infectious syphilis also reached a record high, with a total of 1337 cases reported.

So far this year, 755 infectious cases of syphilis and 494 late stage cases have been reported statewide.

Twenty-six infectious cases and 12 late stage cases in late stages have been detected in the Loddon Mallee region in the same period.

A blood test is the primary diagnostic tool for syphilis. 

Bendigo Community Health Services sexual and reproductive health nurse Mary-Anne McCluskey said symptoms could be so mild in the early stages that people might not know they had syphilis.

“The best way to know is to get tested,” she said.

Health professionals have been advised to screen all women of reproductive age, and all pregnant women.

Men who have sex with men are also among the groups at risk, and account for the majority of notified cases of syphilis in Victoria.

People with multiple sexual partners, people who have returned from countries where syphilis is more prevalent, people who inject drugs, and sex workers were also recommended for screening.

Symptoms associated with syphilis include sores on the genitals, anus or mouth; and skin rashes.

In its later stages, the infection can affect vital organs such as the brain and the heart.

Ms McCluskey said the condition could be treated, and that using condoms could significantly reduce the risk of catching syphilis.

Syphilis can be spread through vaginal, oral and anal sex and can be passed on to a pregnant woman’s unborn baby.

The sexual and reproductive health nurse suggested the increase in casual sex and a decrease in protected sex could be factors in the STI’s resurgence.

“If you’re having unprotected sex you should be getting tested for syphilis,” Ms McCluskey said.

In her experience, presentations of syphilis were rare up until a couple of years ago.

“We’ve seen an increase in our community, for sure,” she said.

An increase in other STIs, including gonorrhea and chlamydia, in recent years prompted reminders about the importance of regular sexual health checks.

While you're with us, did you know you can now sign up to receive breaking news updates direct to your inbox? Sign up here.