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Syphilis explosion strikes Australia with cases more than doubling in coronavirus-stricken Melbourne

Syphilis explosion strikes Australia with cases more than doubling in coronavirus-stricken Melbourne

  • Victorians warned of an increase in syphilis, as Melbourne cases more than double
  • More than 1,000 cases of syphilis have been registered in the state in the past five years
  • Meanwhile, eight cases of congenital syphilis have led to two fetal deaths

Already reeling from a second outbreak of the coronavirus, Victorians are now being warned of a sudden increase in cases of syphilis across the state.

The Department of Health and Human Services confirmed on Wednesday that there had been a wave of more than 1,000 cases of syphilis in the past five years.

Recorded cases of the sexually transmitted infection in Victoria rose from 634 in 2014 to 1,670 in 2019.

Already faltering after a second coronavirus outbreak, Victorians are now warned of an increase in syphilis with 1,000 cases recorded over the past five years and eight cases of congenital syphilis in pregnant women (stock image)

Already faltering after a second coronavirus outbreak, Victorians are now warned of an increase in syphilis with 1,000 cases recorded over the past five years and eight cases of congenital syphilis in pregnant women (stock image)

The results also showed that the majority of female cases occurred in women of childbearing potential at risk of pregnancy, which could lead to congenital syphilis.

Congenital syphilis occurs as a result of ‘transplacental transmission’ during pregnancy or from mother to baby during birth.

Untreated or insufficiently treated syphilis in a pregnant woman can cause congenital syphilis in the baby.

It has returned to Victoria with eight cases reported in the past three years, resulting in two fetal deaths.

“Congenital syphilis caused by the transmission of infection from mother to child is a completely preventable public health problem that has re-emerged in Victoria,” said a statement.

“This has happened against the background of an increase in reported cases of infectious syphilis in both men and women in the past six years.”

It can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, prematurity, low birth weight, and a host of other problems for an affected baby.

“Babies born with congenital syphilis may appear normal at birth, but develop a series of clinical manifestations by two months of age,” the statement read.

Congenital syphilis can be treated with long-acting (benzathine) penicillin, short-acting formulations such as benzylpenicillin are ineffective and should not be used (stock image)

Congenital syphilis can be treated with long-acting (benzathine) penicillin, short-acting formulations such as benzylpenicillin are ineffective and should not be used (stock image)

Congenital syphilis can be treated with long-acting (benzathine) penicillin, short-acting formulations such as benzylpenicillin are ineffective and should not be used (stock image)

“These include blood, brain, bone, organ enlargement, and muco-cutaneous lesions.”

Late manifestations can occur up to two years after birth, including central nervous system abnormalities, eye and hearing problems, and bone or tooth abnormalities.

Advice from Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton states that all pregnant women should be tested for syphilis during routine first trimester prenatal testing.

“The tests should then be repeated for every pregnant woman at every stage of the pregnancy if she has signs and symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection,” the statement said.

“Babies born to mothers who have been diagnosed with syphilis during pregnancy need specialist follow-up.”

Congenital syphilis can be treated with long-acting (benzathine) penicillin, short-acting formulations such as benzylpenicillin are not effective and should not be used.

WHO IS RISK?

Women at risk for a pregnancy complicated by syphilis include:

Those who have more than one sexual partner.

Female partners of men who have sex with men (gay or bisexual).

Sex workers who are not regularly tested for sexually transmitted diseases. People who use or inject drugs.

Women of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent.

Those with sexual contacts overseas, especially from countries with a high prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases.

Those women who show another sexually transmitted infection during pregnancy.

Source: Victoria Health

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