Syphilis rates hit 67-year high

15 June 2017

The number of syphilis cases have reached the highest level in England since 1949, according to new figures from Public Health England (PHE).

Cases of the infection across England have rocketed since 2012.

In 2016, there were 5920 syphilis diagnoses – an increase of 12% from the previous year (from 5,281 to 5,920) and a 97% rise from 2012 (from 3,001 to 5,920). PHE said that the cases were mostly associated with transmission in gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men.

During 2016, there were 420,000 diagnoses of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) made in England, a decline of 4% compared to 2015, according to the PHE data.

There has been a 74% decrease in first episode genital warts in 15- to 17-year-old girls between 2009 and 2016. Last year, there were 1171 diagnoses of first episode genital warts in girls of that age group.

Over 1.4 million chlamydia tests were carried out in 2016 and over 128,000 chlamydia diagnoses were made among young people aged 15 to 24 years.

PHE said the impact of STIs remains greatest in heterosexuals aged 15 to 24, black ethnic minorities and gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men.

A key message from PHE was that statutory, high-quality relationship and sex education in secondary schools would equip young people with the skills to improve their sexual health and overall wellbeing. 

It said that strengthened local and national prevention activities needed to focus on groups at highest risk, including young adults, black ethnic minorities and men who have sex with men. 

And it said that rapid, open access to treatment and partner notification could reduce the risk of complications and infection spread. 

PHE said that regular testing for HIV and STIs is essential for good sexual health and anyone under 25 who is sexually active should be screened for chlamydia annually, and on change of sexual partner.