Syphilis has skyrocketed in Victoria’s gay community sparking concerns it could escalate HIV transmission.

Dr Nick Medland of Centre Clinic in St Kilda, which is run by the Victorian AIDS Council, said syphilis cases had leapt alarmingly in the past five years from zero cases in 1999 to 60 last year and 50 cases already reported in the first half of 2004.

There has been a very dramatic and steep rise in the number of people contracting syphilis in Victoria and it appears to be occurring predominantly, almost completely, inside the men-who-sleep-with-men community, Dr Medland said.

He said there was no known reason why the disease was escalating.

Gonorrhoea and chlamydia diagnoses had also jumped and the best protection against these infections was regular testing, Medland said.

He said the major concern about syphilis, gonorrhoea and chlamydia going through the gay community was that it could cause more HIV transmission.

Meantime, a study released at the annual conference of the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine, National Convention Centre, Canberra, found that syphilis outbreaks had increased among gay men in all Australian capital cities.

Syphilis is becoming re-established in the gay male population in Australia’s cities, according to Dr Andrew Grulich, National Centre in HIV Social Research, University of NSW, Sydney.

In South-Eastern Sydney alone, notified cases of infectious syphilis increased sixfold between 2001 and 2003. More than 95 percent of cases were in men. Increases have also occurred in gay men elsewhere in Australia, said Dr Grulich.

Another study released at the conference stated that HIV infection should not alter the decision to admit patients to hospital intensive care units (ICU).

In the first Australian study of its kind, the survival and health outcomes of HIV-infected patients who were admitted to ICU at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, was evaluated.

The study demonstrated that overall, 87.5 percent of patients were alive on discharge from ICU, and 72 percent left hospital and were alive after six months, according to study co-author Professor Debbie Marriott, Departments of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine.

This represented a significantly lower mortality rate than other published studies, and a comparable survival rate to HIV non-infected patients managed in the ICU during the same period, said Professor Marriott.

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