Health chiefs warn of increase in syphilis

Health chiefs have warned that there has been a five-fold increase in the number of people infected with syphilis in the province.

Chief Medical Officer, Dr Henrietta Campbell, said that so far this year 13 people had received treatment for syphilis at Genito-Urinary Medicine (GUM) clinics. This compares with two cases last year, and just one in each of previous two years. The Chief Medical Officer confirmed that in 12 of the 13 cases reported the patients were men who had sex with men.

Similar increases in the number of syphilis cases have been reported in the South of Ireland and in certain areas of England.

Dr Lorraine Doherty, Senior Medical Officer at the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, said: "The department, the four Health and Social Services Boards, staff at hospital GUM clinics and other partner organisations are all working together on a series of measures that we are confident will minimise the risk of more people acquiring syphilis infection and will also ensure that people with this infection receive appropriate care.

“Advice has been issued to all doctors here asking them to be vigilant for new cases of syphilis and reminding them of the hospital centres where treatment is available.

"It is particularly important that people understand how the infection can be acquired. Unprotected sexual contact of any kind is the biggest risk factor for syphilis transmission”

A potentially serious but readily treatable infection, syphilis is normally transmitted from through sexual contact.

Dr Michael McBride, a consultant in Genito-Urinary Medicine at the GUM clinic at Belfast's Royal Hospitals, emphasised that treatment for syphilis is normally offered with antibiotics - and patients will make a full recovery if these are offered quickly.

The four Health and Social Services Boards are also co-ordinating other measures that involve promoting greater public awareness of the risks presented by syphilis.

Organisations in the voluntary sector that specifically cater for the health needs of gay people are contributing to this work by promoting awareness about the infection and the availability of treatment. (SP)

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