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Rise in syphilis cases sparks advice to gay community

24 September 2012

Health Care

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 fifties.

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 partners.

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 partners.

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 or anything."

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 385121 (women).

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