Gay men are being urged to get tested for syphilis following a rise in diagnoses in Australia, particularly inner-city Sydney.
Approximately 750 diagnoses were made across Australia in the year to March 2009 with most cases occurring among gay men.

However, health authorities warn the number of actual infections is likely to be higher because syphilis doesn’t always present symptoms and so many cases go undiagnosed.

Furthermore, research indicates that if the trend continues unchecked, syphilis notifications will increase substantially.

“If left untreated, syphilis can cause irreversible damage to the nerves, bones, skin, eyes and brain. It affects the immune system as well and is also associated with an increased risk of HIV transmission,” ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said.

“In addition, syphilis is often asymptomatic which means people with the condition may not know they have it and may be inadvertently passing it on to other people.

“By getting tested at least twice a year, or by incorporating syphilis testing into regular HIV testing and monitoring, gay men can improve the health and wellbeing of themselves and our community.”

To help fight the rising number of infections, ACON this week launched a campaign urging men to get tested and notify their partners should they test positive.

The campaign was developed in partnership with the STIs In Gay Men Action Group and is aligned with the National Gay Men’s Syphilis Action Plan developed by the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research.

“If a person tests positive for syphilis, it’s really important they tell their recent sexual partners so they can get tested too,” Parkhill said.

“This can be done directly through a clinic, or via the Whytest website (www.whytest.org) where there’s also lots of information about the prevention, testing and treatment of syphilis.”

Parkhill said the campaign targets gay men with HIV as well as sexually adventurous gay men, including men who have group sex.

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