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Medical News

Australia: Eye Syphilis Cases on the Rise in Epidemic

May 11, 2007

Ophthalmologists in Victoria are concerned about the growing number of men who are seeking treatment for syphilis-related eye infections.

Fewer than 10 percent of people infected with syphilis develop symptoms in their eyes, causing redness, pain, sensitivity, and loss of vision. But among those who do, 25 percent will have no other symptoms and thus often have no idea they have syphilis.

"Many of them aren't aware they have the infection because the only symptoms they have are in their eye," said Dr. Chathri Amaratunge, a specialist at Alfred Hospital in Melbourne. "That is problematic, especially as it's happening more and more."

After a 50-year decline, syphilis rates in New South Wales and Victoria doubled between 2001 and 2005. Men who have sex with men account for most of the cases, and infectious-disease experts predict the epidemic will spread through gay communities across Australia in time.

Though eye-related syphilis is relatively uncommon, with 15 cases predicted in Victoria this year, the numbers are rising fast, said Amaratunge.

At an ophthalmology meeting on Saturday in Victoria, Amaratunge will present data on four men who came to Alfred Hospital unaware they had the disease. "Because we're used to syphilis being a rare disease we don't necessarily think of it as a cause of eye problems anymore," she will tell colleagues. "That thinking has to start changing because sadly it's coming back and this is an important way of picking it up."

Back to other news for May 2007

Adapted from:
Australian Associated Press
05.11.2007; Tamara McLean

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
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