Syphilis rates triple in 10 years amid STI spike

Michelle Wisbey

19/12/2023 4:34:47 PM

Experts say it is ‘concerning’ to see infections on the rise despite a decrease in testing, and are urging patients to seek out their GP.

Doctor consulting with a patient.
Chlamydia was the most frequently notified STI, with more than two-thirds of diagnoses occurring in young people.

Cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) have skyrocketed in Australia over the past decade, according to a new report exposing the concerning trend.
Researchers from the Kirby Institute have revealed diagnoses of gonorrhoea have doubled, diagnoses of syphilis have tripled, and chlamydia is up 12%.
Epidemiologist Dr Skye McGregor said this spike comes despite low rates of testing throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘Any rise in STIs is bad news. But rising STIs against a backdrop of decreased testing, and the persistent upward trend over the past decade, is particularly concerning,’ she said.
‘The key message we want Australians to take away from these data is that for any sexually active person, condoms remain highly effective at preventing STIs, and regular STI testing is crucial.
‘A key part of this is combating stigma around sexual health and notifying sexual partners when someone has tested positive for an STI.’
Syphilis cases remain most common in men, but there has been a six-fold increase in the number of females diagnosed.
Researchers said this was leading to higher rates of congenital syphilis with 15 cases reported last year, eight of which were among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Chlamydia was the most frequently notified STI in Australia, with more than two-thirds of diagnoses occurring in people aged 15–29 years and one in 27 young females having the infection at some point last year.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are diagnosed with chlamydia two times more frequently than non-Indigenous people, and for gonorrhoea and syphilis the rate is more than five times as high.
Kirby Institute Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Research Manager Robert Monaghan said these disparities are even more significant in remote communities.
‘This highlights an urgent need for culturally appropriate health promotion, testing, and treatment strategies,’ he said.
‘It is crucial that these are co-designed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
‘While these statistics are incredibly concerning, we know that well targeted and appropriately funded health interventions work in our communities.’
But the research did reveal some good news, with the ‘hugely successful’ human papillomavirus vaccination program making significant progress in the elimination of genital warts.
Australia has also likely eliminated donovanosis, once a regularly diagnosed STI in remote Aboriginal communities, with the most recent case notified in 2014 and no cases diagnosed since then.
Dr McGregor said these are examples of what can be achieved when concerted efforts are made across all sectors.
‘If you are sexually active, the best thing to do is to have a chat with your GP, nurse, or health worker about the risk of STIs, and they’ll recommend anything from three to 12 monthly testing, depending on risk,’ she said.
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