Rise in syphilis cases sparks advice to gay community
24 September 2012
Southend has emerged as a ‘hot spot’ for syphilis after a marked spike in the number of cases recorded.
And health experts think that there could be many more people
who are unaware they have contracted the disease.
Once thought eradicated in this country, syphilis is on the
increase across the country. But Southend has a particularly high
incidence, along with inner cities and other seaside resorts.
Since the start of 2011, a total of 38 patients have been
diagnosed with the disease at Southend University Hospital's sexual
health clinic, compared with just 14 in 2010. Of that total, 25
have early syphilis (when it is easily passed on), as against only
three in 2010.
The incidences are almost exclusively among the male gay
community and encompass a range of ages from teens to late
The dramatic increase in figures has prompted sexual health
clinicians to urge the gay community to get themselves regularly
checked out - especially if they have recently changed
Dr Henna Jaleel, lead consultant for sexual health and HIV
medicine, said: "We have seen a phenomenal rise is cases with as
many as three newly-diagnosed patients in a month. And we do not
know how many more there may be in the community."
First symptoms are typically a painless but highly infectious
sore on the genitals, around the anus or sometimes around the
mouth. These symptoms often heal themselves, but are generally
followed by a skin rash, especially on the palms of the hands and
soles of the feet, and a sore throat.
Dr Jaleel said: "Often these symptoms are quite mild and
so are ignored. Early syphilis can be easily detected and treated,
but if it is left it can lead to more serious complications and
cause serious damage to the body."
A simple blood test can detect the presence of the disease which
can then be quickly and successfully treated.
Dr Jaleel said: "It is very important that everyone is more
aware of the symptoms. People should not be scared. The prognosis
is very good if treated early."
She and her colleagues in the sexual health services are very
keen to get the message out to the local community, particularly
men who have sex with men, and urge them to always use a condom
when having sex with casual and new partners and to get a full
sexual health screening annually or on changing sexual
Sexual health clinic manager, Alison Keefe, added: "We are very
proud of our bright, modern sexual health clinic staffed by
friendly, non-judgemental doctors and nurses. Patients are seen in
complete confidentiality and there is no stigma attached to anyone
Anyone suspecting they may have syphilis or any other sexually
transmitted infection can attend the hospital's walk-in clinic
which is open from 9am to 11am Monday to Thursday. Alternatively,
appointments can be made by calling 01702 385120 (men) or 01702
In addition, a drop-in screening session offering a quick and
easy test for syphilis, HIV, gonorrhoea and chlamydia is available
at the Kingsley Ward Centre. To find out more, telephone 01702
577110 or go to www.thekwc.nhs.uk
Information about all sexually transmitted infections and sexual
health services is available on the NHS Choices website www.nhs.uk