The Local Government Association (LGA) has disclosed that two-thirds of council areas in the UK have experienced a significant increase in rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), specifically syphilis and gonorrhoea.
According to data from the Office of Health Disparities, responsible for public health improvement across England, there has been a staggering 76% rise in syphilis rates alone.
This surge coincides with a 33% increase in requests for sexual health consultations from 2013 to 2022, with nearly 4.5 million consultations conducted last year.
Dr Lee explains: “Syphilis is a devastating disease that affects millions worldwide. The increase in cases is alarming, and it is crucial for the public to understand the severity of the situation.
“Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. The most common way a person becomes infected with syphilis is by having oral sex with someone who has syphilis. However, any sexual encounter can result in syphilis transmission. It can be transmitted by kissing and close bodily contact; it can be transmitted even if there is no vaginal or anal penetration and even if the partner did not ejaculate.
“However, the biggest challenge lies in the fact that many infected individuals may not be aware that they have it. Most people have had no symptoms for many years; the only way to diagnose it is by having a blood test. Syphilis is routinely tested for during pregnancy. It is always offered as part of a sexual health screening by anyone attending a sexual health clinic.”
Dr Deborah Lee said: “Syphilis causes uveitis – inflammation of the uvea, which sits underneath the white part of the eye. This means the eyes look pink or red and feel sore.
Syphilis causes intense inflammation within the eye, and untreated, this increases the risk of cataracts, corneal opacity, scarring of the cornea, glaucoma, and blindness. The treatment for ocular syphilis is the same as for the other types of syphilis and involves injections of benzathine penicillin.
Dr Lee advised: “Syphilis progresses through various stages, each with distinct symptoms and potential complications, ranging from painless ulcers in the initial stage to neurological, cardiovascular, and gummatous syphilis in later stages.
“The good news is that syphilis can be treated and cured. However, the quicker it is diagnosed and treated, the better. There is always a risk of contracting syphilis again in the future.
“The first-line treatment for stages one and two and early latent syphilis is a single-dose injection of benzathine penicillin. In late latent and tertiary syphilis, an injection of benzathine penicillin is given once a week for 3 weeks.
“For those with a penicillin allergy, there are alternatives, including ceftriaxone or doxycycline. Benzathine penicillin is also the first choice of treatment for syphilis in pregnancy.”