UK sees ‘marked’ increase in syphilis as cases rise by 8% in a year

There has been a rise in syphilis cases (PA Archive)
There has been a rise in syphilis cases (PA Archive)

The UK saw a “marked” increase in syphilis infections in 2021 with cases rising 8.4 per cent in a year, according to new figures.

Data on sexually transmitted infections (STIs), published by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) on Tuesday, shows that there were 7,506 diagnoses of infectious syphilis reported in 2021 - a jump from 6,923 the year before.

The UKHSA said the increase was “particularly driven” by asymptomatic diagnoses, but noted there had also been “a notable increase in diagnoses of neurosyphilis” - a life-threatening infection of the nervous system.

Infections increased by 6.1 per cent people aged between 15 to 24, the UKHSA said.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection which is usually caught from sexual intercourse with someone who is infected. It cannot be spread though contact with an infected person from using the same toilet, clothing or cutlery.

If left untreated for years, it can spread to the brain and other parts of the body and cause serious health issues.

It can be treated with antibiotics - but people can still catch it after receiving treatment.

Meanwhile, the UK saw a 1.7 per cent increase in the number of gonorrhoea cases though overall cases of STIs are still below pre-pandemic levels.

There were 311,604 diagnoses of new STIs in England last year, a similar number compared with 2020 and a decrease of 33.2 per cent since 2019.

The number of sexual health screens also increased by 18.7 per cent on last year, but is down by 13.2 per cent relative to 2019.

Ian Green, Chief Executive at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “The data shows levels of syphilis and gonorrhoea remain high while testing levels aren’t back to where they were before Covid.

“That’s why we need the Government to set out its vision for sexual and reproductive health in its long over-due sexual and reproductive health action plan.

“These latest numbers show why the Government must urgently set out what good looks like with the funding attached to achieve that vision.”