You might be forgiven for thinking that syphilis is a disease from the history books. It’s not talked about much anymore, after having been all but eradicated in the UK during the 1980s and 1990s. We hear stories of famous figures from history who had or could have had the sexually transmitted infection, but rarely do we think of it in terms of modern day experiences.
However, rates of syphilis are currently the highest they have been since 1949. This is disappointing news for sexual health experts and the public. Figures from 2016 show there were 420,000 new STI cases reported, including syphilis. Funding cuts to many sexual health services is not helping the developing public health crisis. Syphilis infections have risen by 12% in just 12 months according to figures released by Public Health England.
Overall, since 2012, rates of the bacterial infection have risen by a colossal 97%. It seems that syphilis is back with a vengeance. It is an infection that can cause terrible brain and heart conditions and increase the risk of transmitting HIV. Clearly, after successfully almost eradicating the infection in previous decades, there is still much to be done. Sexual health advice, information and access to testing and treatment services must remain a priority. People can also self-test at home for a variety of STIs. For STI test Greenwich information, contact https://www.checkurself.org.uk/plus/
Syphilis can be hard to recognise, with mild to no symptoms at all in many cases. You might notice a sore in your genital area which can be hard to spot and usually painless. Secondary symptoms include a rash and/or mild flu-like symptoms. Serious long-term effects of the infection, if left untreated can include paralysis, tumours and blindness.
Sexual health figures show rates of infection are highest amongst heterosexual people aged between 15 and 24, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men and black ethnic minorities. Some sexual health experts have welcomed the fact that relationship and sex education will soon be compulsory in schools. However, this information must include information about the importance of STI testing, gay, lesbian, trans and bisexual relationships – not simply the traditional teachings of heterosexual sex and reproduction.
Concerns have been raised by experts over cuts to essential local authority health budgets. With an increase in sexually transmitted infections, cuts to sexual health services will be a massive blow. For example, there has already been a 9% decline in the rates of chlamydia testing due to budget cuts. There must be a concentrated effort to improve access to testing and investing in prevention services or the issues we currently face in the UK will not be met and dealt with effectively.