Syphilis cases at highest rate since WW2 – the 5 signs you need to know

SYPHILIS cases are at their highest since World War Two, new figures have revealed.

The bacterial infection, which is passed on through sex, has risen by 165 per cent over the last decade.

 Syphilis cases are at their highest since World War Two, new figures have revealed


Syphilis cases are at their highest since World War Two, new figures have revealedCredit: Getty – Contributor

A report by the Terrence Higgins Trust and British Association for Sexual Health & HIV (BASHH) found there were more than 7,000 cases in 2018.

That’s the worst figure since 1945 when almost 20,000 people were diagnosed.

Overall there were 447,694 new diagnoses of STIs in 2018 – a rise of five per cent from the previous year.

Campaigners say that STI rates in England are “unacceptably high” with a diagnosis every 70 seconds on average.

They are calling on the Government to urgently implement a new sexual health strategy and funding to reduce the pressure on services across the country and tackle the threat of drug resistant STIs.

Jonathan McShane, chairman of the Terrence Higgins Trust, added: “The Government must roll up its sleeves and get to work because the current state of the nation is simply not good enough.”

What is syphilis, and how is it spread?

Dr Laura Joigneau Prieto at UK-based online doctor, Zava UK said: “Syphilis is a bacterial infection that’s usually spread through unprotected vaginal, oral or anal sex, or sharing sex toys.

“The symptoms at the first stage of the infection include a small painless sore called a ‘chancre’ found at the site of infection.

“It is more frequently found on the penis or the vagina or around the anus. It may appear on the fingers, mouth, lips or buttocks.

“Your glands in your neck, groin or armpits may also swell.

“These symptoms disappear within eight weeks even without treatment, and some people may not experience any symptoms at all or may not notice them.

“But this doesn’t mean the infection has gone – without treatment it will develop into the secondary stage, known as secondary syphilis.”

What are the signs of syphilis?

Syphilis is a curable condition, if it’s caught – but it can sometimes go unnoticed for years.

Left untreated it can have long-term health implications, including brain problems and infertility.

The symptoms of syphilis are not always obvious and may eventually disappear, but people usually remain infected unless they get treated.

Knowing the signs can help you get treatment sooner, these are the five to look out for:

  1. Small, painless sores or ulcers that typically appear on the penis, vagina, or around the anus, but can occur in other places such as the mouth
  2. A blotchy red rash that often affects the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
  3. Small skin growths, similar to genital warts, that may develop on the vulva in women or around the anus in both men and women
  4. White patches in the mouth
  5. Tiredness, headaches, joint pains, a high temperature and swollen glands in your neck, groin or armpits

What to do if you think you have syphilis

Sexually active people are encouraged to take regular STI tests.

If you believe you have contracted the infection, it’s advisable to visit your GP as soon as possible.

The quicker syphilis is treated, the easier it is for your body to fight off the contagion.

Dr Prieto said: “To diagnose syphilis, you’ll usually have a blood test, and you may also have a physical exam and a swab test of any visible sores.

“If you use a home test kit, you’ll usually have the results available 2-3 days after the lab receives them.”

She added: “It can take several weeks for syphilis to show up on a test after you catch it, so if your test comes up negative for syphilis, your doctor will recommend to repeat it.

“It’s important to remember that if you don’t get tested you can be putting yourself and other people you infect at risk of further complications.”

How is it treated?

Following a diagnosis of syphilis, patients are either prescribed an injection of antibiotics into the buttocks or a course of antibiotic tablets.

Dr Prieto said: “Treatment is essential because the infection doesn’t go away on its own.

“Antibiotics are usually enough to treat the infection, but the type of antibiotic you will be prescribed will depend on how long you have had syphilis for.

“If you have had syphilis for less than two years, you will either be injected with penicillin or prescribed up to 14 days of antibiotic tablets if you are unable to take penicillin.

“For syphilis which has lasted for over two years, you will usually need three penicillin injections or a 28-day course of antibiotic tablets.”

Sam Thompson speaks to students at Warwick University about condoms as a part of the Public Health England’s ‘Protect Against STIs’ campaign


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