Solent NHS TrustHigh quality community and mental health services

Unwelcome syphilis return

Published: 11/06/2018

A sexual health expert has warned that complacency regarding how some sexually transmitted infections and diseases are now treatable may be contributing to a rise in the syphilis.

The availability of penicillin in the 1940s had resulted in syphilis infections reducing significantly across the world – but over the last few years, there has been a noticeable increase.

Solent NHS Trust’s Dr Alison Blume said, “I think there are lots of reasons behind the return in syphilis, a disease that was almost eradicated in the early 80s largely due to the sexual health campaigns around HIV at that time.”

Dr Blume, who is a consultant in genitourinarymedicine and is also an HIV physician, added, “There was a huge change in behaviour particularly amongst men who have sex with men (MSM) at this time. The return is due to complacency regarding HIV being treatable, possibly factors like being openly gay being more acceptable, travel and sex abroad, and more recently some apps facilitating easy sex/fast partner change, and sexualised drug use or chemsex.

According to national data released earlier this week, there is a high rate of syphilis in the adult population in Portsmouth (25.8) and Southampton (20.0), though for Hampshire (9.4) it is lower than the national average of 12.5 per 100 000 population.

Data from the Trust’s Sexual Health Service clinics in Portsmouth for 2017 shows that there were 64 new cases of syphilis diagnosed, up from 53 the previous year.

In Southampton, there were 23 cases, compared to 29 in the previous year while clinics in the north of the county recorded 32 new cases, up from 21 in 2016.

“Stopping the spread of syphilis requires us all to take the usual sexual health precautions such as using protection and getting tested, particularly those considered at risk, such as sex workers, MSM, those who have sex abroad and so on, to get tested and treated,” said Dr Blume.

If worried about your sexual health, you can take a Syphilis quiz to test your knowledge and to help you assess your risk before requesting an online test kit at the Solent Sexual Health website //Ends

Notes for Editors:

  1. Interview with Dr Blume can be arranged. Please contact us Kim Henderson, Network and Communications Manager, Sexual Health Services, 023 8103 0560 or email Kimberley.henderson@solent.nhs.ukor Elton Dzikiti, Assistant Head of Communications, Solent NHS Trust on 0300 123 4156 or email
  2. Solent NHS Trust was created on 1 April 2011 and specialises in providing high quality community and mental health services. We operate out of more than 120 sites across Southampton, Portsmouth and Hampshire.
  3. The Trust has a vision to provide great care, be a great place to work and deliver great value for money. It prides itself in being a ‘values- based organisation’, a position strengthened last year by internal and external engagement around the development of values, whose acronym is HEART, which stands for Honesty, Everyone Counts, Accountable, Respectful and Teamwork.

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