Syphilis back from brink of extinction

Syphilis, the sexually transmitted infection which was almost wiped out in the West ten years ago, is on the increase again.

In 1996 137 people in England and Wales were diagnosed with the disease. By 2005 the number had risen to almost 3,000.

According to one expert, the increase in the West is partly driven by increased cases amongst homosexual men.

Syphilis is generally acquired through direct sexual contact but it may also be passed on by women to their unborn children.

Symptoms include fever, headache, rash on the palms and feet, and lesions. Untreated, syphilis can result in insanity and death, but it can be effectively treated with antibiotics.

Kevin Fenton, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in Atlanta, Georgia, said: “In many high-income countries successes in syphilis prevention and control were accelerated during the early and mid-1990s, with many countries approaching or achieving elimination of endemic disease transmission.

“However, since the beginning of the 21st century, syphilis incidence has started to rise in high-income settings, in part driven by increases in cases among men who have sex with men, although more recent increases among heterosexual people have also been reported.”

Dr Fenton added: “In developed countries the low incidence of syphilis over the past two decades and the interactions of the disease with HIV infection have resulted in clinicians who are unfamiliar with the disease’s many manifestations.”

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