October 9, 2007
New South Wales health figures show new syphilis reports among area gay men are more than double last year's number. Half the cases are HIV co-infected, and most are men age 35 or older.
Local syphilis rates had declined from the previous 2004 peak in new infections, but reports in southeast and southwest Sydney are almost matching that record rate. Most of those diagnosed with syphilis had dropped by for a routine STD check and were unaware of their infection, said Anna McNulty, Sydney Sexual Health Center's director. Syphilis symptoms such as rash, fever, and fatigue are not often tied to the STD, and physicians might not link symptoms to it either, she said.
"We're particularly concerned about the rising syphilis cases because it's ulcerative, and there's an increased risk of HIV transmission at that stage," said McNulty. "Patients often aren't aware you can acquire syphilis through oral sex. Having safe sex in terms of HIV won't stop syphilis because it's transmissible skin-to-skin."
The health body ACON has initiated a new syphilis testing campaign targeting group sex participants, hoping also to stop new HIV cases, said Nick Corrigan, the group's community health director. "Men who have lots of sex partners are being encouraged to have a syphilis test in October, even if they've had one already this year," he said.