Syphilis on the rise across Ireland

Amy Donohoe

Syphiis is curable with antibiotics however if left untreated can have long lasting negative effects. Credit: Radio NZ

The number of syphilis cases has risen to record levels according to the HSE.

It has risen by 31 per cent since 2016, according to the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) among both men and women.

“Another reason STIs (Sexually Transmitted Illness) may be increasing is that there may be more awareness of STIs, so more people are getting tested,” a said a HSE spokesperson.

The HSE said young people often have more sexual partners than older adults and may be less likely to use condoms, which make them vulnerable to getting an infection.

There were 398 cases of early infectious syphilis last year and this year there has been 408 cases of the disease, more than in the whole of 2017.

The vast majority of cases are among men who have sex with women (96 per cent) and men who have sex with men (87 per cent).

Four of the 16 women diagnosed with syphilis were pregnant; there was also one case of congenital syphilis in a male infant whose mother was visiting Ireland at the time of his birth. The boy was treated at birth and referred for follow-up upon return to his home country.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause serious health problems if it is not treated. You can get it by direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.
Syphilis is divided into stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary), with different signs and symptoms associated with each stage.

A person with primary syphilis generally has a sore or sores at the original site of infection. They’re usually firm, round, and painless. Secondary syphilis symptoms include skin rash, swollen lymph nodes, and fever.

The signs and symptoms of primary and secondary syphilis can be mild, and they might not be noticed.

Tertiary syphilis can affect the heart, brain, and other organs of the body.

Syphilis can spread from an infected mother to her unborn baby. Without treatment, syphilis can spread to the brain and nervous system (neurosyphilis) or to the eye (ocular syphilis).

Neurosyphilis symptoms include; severe headaches, difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis and dementia.

A total of 11,078 sexually transmitted infection diagnoses were reported. There has been a 6 per cent increase in STI diagnoses overall when comparing the figures to January to November 2017, and overall there have been 441 cases of Syphilis, 6,739 of Chlamydia, 1,989 of Gonorrhoea, 1,383 of Herpes, 19 cases of Lymphogranuloma and 53 reported cases of Trichomoniasis.

A blood test is used to test for syphilis. Some health care providers will diagnose syphilis by testing fluid from a syphilis sore. Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics however, treatment might not undo any damage that the infection has already done.

There are free STI and HIV testing clinics around the country, or you can also attend your GP to get tested.

Amy Donohoe

Image Credit: Radio NZ