Syphilis Jumps to Western Australia; Doctors say ‘Complacent’ Safe Sex Attitudes to Blame

The back of a man with syphilis reveals numerous lesions

Some sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise in Western Australia, with Aboriginal communities in the north hit particularly hard by a syphilis outbreak.

Across the population, Syphilis has more than doubled the five-year average, up 112 per cent. More than 95 per cent of cases reported in Perth were in men.

However the rate increased by 38 per cent among Aboriginal people, associated with an ongoing outbreak in the Kimberley region, and decreased by 13 per cent among non-Aboriginal people.

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said Aboriginal people in the north had been failed.

“It’s really sad that we’ve actually had and outbreak of syphilis that started in north Queensland that’s gone right across the north of Australia, through the Northern Territory and into the Kimberley through our Aboriginal populations,” Dr Khorshid said.

“In this day and age, in a medical system that’s had a cure for that condition for many decades, the fact we are still seeing an outbreak of such an easily treated infectious disease really says a lot about our failure as a community to deal with the health issues in our Aboriginal communities.”

Meanwhile, in 2017, gonorrhoea notifications increased by 50 percent on the 5-year average, but were down 13 percent from 2016.

Chlamydia notifications over the past five years remained relatively stable.

People aged 20 to 29 years old were the highest represented group and made up over half of all chlamydia notifications.

Dr Khorshid said the community no longer practised the same level of diligence with safe sexual practices as they did during the height of the HIV outbreak.

“As people are getting more complacent about the risk of HIV, they’re forgetting some of the simple messages that have been out for a long time about how you prevent sexually transmitted infections,” he said.

“It’s really important that people remember sexually transmitted infections still occur, they can occur in people who you would think might be low risk, and they certainly occur very commonly in higher risk populations such as men who have sex with men and in our Indigenous population where we have rates of Gonorrhoea 14 times as high as the rest of the community.

“Unfortunately in the case of Gonorrhoea it is becoming more resistant to anti-biotics and if we don’t follow the simple messages around prevention then we may be in a situation where we’re not actually able to treat infections.”

WA Minister for Health Roger Cook urged people of all ages to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases.

“It is concerning because an STI left undiagnosed or untreated is really quite a serious thing,” Mr Cook said.

“So it’s important that people get to their GPs.

“It’s a simple blood test and it can really make sure that you get the help you need when you need it.”

Syphilis is a bacterial infection usually spread by sexual contact.

It starts as a small painless sore on the mouth, anus or genitals, which can become a body rash and without treatment go on to damage organs, including the brain.

Mr Cook said safe sex was one of the easiest ways to prevent STIs.

“The safe sex message has never been more important and because of that we want people to make sure they protect themselves if they are going to undertake sexual activity,” Mr Cook said.

The Minister said people should not be embarrassed to get a check up from their GP or health care professional.

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