An alarming spike in the number of syphilis infections has been recorded in Melbourne over the past twelve months. This despite lockdown measures and social distancing being in place for most of 2020.

The past 12 months have seen more than 1400 new syphilis infections, with some 560 of those recorded since January 1st of this year.

Hotspots that have emerged include the Brimbank area, with 56 cases, Casey reported 42 new infections and Mentone recorded a further 46 in this time frame. All new infections are being reported to Victorian Department of Health. Genomic sequencing is being used to control the outbreak.



Though most worrying perhaps is the fact that a number of Victorians have been admitted to hospital with a delayed diagnosis of ocular syphilis, which has the potential to cause permanent blindness.

This follows an advisory that was issued by Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton in March this year, warning that the state was seeing a spike in syphilis cases.

“Victoria continues to experience an upsurge in syphilis,” Professor Sutton said at the time “Untreated or inadequately treated syphilis in a pregnant woman can result in congenital syphilis in the baby, a serious public health problem, that has re-emerged in Victoria.”

While previously, it was men who had sex with men that were mainly affected by the STI, the current outbreak of infection is seen among women.

Ask For A Syphilis Test

Syphilis awareness poster from the 1940s (Photo: Public Domain-USGov-WPA)

Syphilis awareness poster from the 1940s (Photo: Public Domain-USGov-WPA)

Simon Ruth, CEO of Thorne Harbour Health told Star Observer that “For decades gay men and other men who have sex with men have sought out information about STIs and we have been active in managing our sexual health and wellbeing. But not all doctors are confident in sexual health. If you are concerned about your sexual health in general, it’s a good idea to get checked – ask for a syphilis test if your doctor doesn’t offer one.”

Ruth added that the symptoms of syphilis are varied but that “they can include a rash that comes and goes and/or a sore in the genital area that clears up, but if undiagnosed and untreated, syphilis can have serious consequences such as blindness and brain damage.”

There have also been 10 confirmed cases of congenital syphilis in babies reported since 2017, which Ruth describes as “particularly concerning.”

There has also been a 220 per cent spike in syphilis infections among women in recent years, an analysis by Alfred Health’s Melbourne Sexual Health Centre found – more than 170 infections have been found in women in the past twelve months.

Ruth said that “Syphilis cases have been on the rise for some time. The message for gay and bisexual men, in relation to not only syphilis but sexual health in general, is to get tested regularly for STIs. The other aspect of syphilis infection that is important to remember is that the symptoms can be mild to begin with and can be mistaken for other things.”

For more information on Syphilis and other STIs, check The Drama Down Under website.


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