Sexually transmitted infections are on the rise in many parts of the world. Syphilis cases are definitely on the increase here in the UK, with a 12 per cent rise on the previous year.
Sexual health campaigners are trying to raise awareness, as levels in England and Scotland are at their highest for 70 years. What is syphilis and what are the problems we face?
Syphilis is a transmitted infection caused by the bacterium treponema pallidum and is caught by having sex with someone who is infected. The symptoms are not always obvious but can include small painless ulcers that can appear on the penis, vagina, anus and in the mouth. A blotchy red rash may appear on the soles of your feet or palms of your hands, and small growths can appear on and around the anus in both men and women and around the female vulva. You will suffer from headaches and tiredness, a high temperature, swollen glands, aching joints, and white patches in your mouth.
The treatment offered is either an antibiotic injection into the buttock or a course of antibiotic tablets. Sexual contact with others should be avoided until two weeks after the treatment is complete.
You can get tested at your local clinic, or certain areas have drop-in centres where appointments are not needed. The staff deal with STDs on a day-to-day basis and will not judge you, so there is no need to feel embarrassed or nervous. Home testing kits are available for certain STDs; for example, London home STI kits are available from providers such ashttps://www.bexleysexualhealth.org/chlamydia_screening/.
Many clinics are overstretched withpeople needing tests and treatment due to government cutbacks and staff shortages. In 2016 there were 5,920 cases of syphilis diagnosed, which was a 97 per cent rise on 2012. Most cases were associated with men who have sex with men, black ethnic minorities, and heterosexuals aged 15-24.
Cuts to public health budgets mean this is a worrying time. We should not be scaling back sexual health services but improving them, and also increasing the number of trained staff. It is imperative that the Department of Health ensures there is sufficient access to STI and HIV testing, and that treatment and prevention services are staffed to enable the professionals to prevent a sexual health crisis.