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Syphilis infections reach 67-year high

Cases of syphilis in England have reached the highest level since 1949, figures on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) for 2016 show.

There were 5,920 diagnoses of syphilis reported last year — a 12% increase from the previous year, Public Health England (PHE) said in its report ‘Sexually transmitted infections and chlamydia screening in England, 2016’.

The data show that since 2012, cases of syphilis have almost doubled. This increase is largely linked with transmission in gay and bisexual men or other men who have sex with men, according to the report.

In 2016, there were approximately 420,000 diagnoses of STIs in England, a drop of 4% compared with 2015. The report also said more than 1.4 million chlamydia tests were carried out resulting in more than 128,000 chlamydia diagnoses among people aged 15–24 years.

PHE said local and national prevention activities needed to focus on those at highest risk, including young adults, black ethnic minorities and men who have sex with men.

The report highlighted the need for consistent and correct use of condoms, rapid open access to treatment and partner notification, and regular testing to prevent the spread of STIs.

Michael Brady, medical director at the Terrence Higgins Trust, says the figures showed unacceptably high rates of STIs. “We’re facing huge challenges, such as the continued rise of syphilis and ongoing concerns around drug-resistant gonorrhoea, and we urgently need to address the nation’s poor sexual health and rates of STIs in those most at risk.”

He adds: “In this climate of cuts to local authorities’ public health budgets, this is particularly concerning. Now is not the time to be scaling back sexual health services. Cuts to chlamydia testing, for example, are having a visible impact, with today’s figures showing that there has been a 9% decrease in the number of chlamydia tests taken.

“It is also now essential that PHE, the Department of Health and local authorities ensure improved access to effective STI and HIV testing, treatment and prevention services. Otherwise, we cannot expect to address the ongoing sexual health crisis.”

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2017.20202951

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