Syphilis cases on the rise in Manawatū
It is coming into the holiday period and syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection that was almost gone from New
Zealand, is now a public health issue again. There has been a large increase in the number of cases of syphilis reported
in New Zealand and a cluster of cases in the MidCentral district.
Between 2015 and 2017, the numbers of cases of syphilis in New Zealand doubled to almost 600.
In the MidCentral DHB area, there has been 20 cases over the year, and four cases over 10 days just this month.
MidCentral DHB Sexual Health Physician Dr Anne Robertson said that syphilis might not be at the forefront of people’s
minds when meeting new sexual partners but it was important people looked after themselves by using condoms, especially
during the holiday period when sexual health services closed down.
“Syphilis is not limited to one population group and although most syphilis infections have been among men who have sex
with men, there are increasing numbers of cases in the heterosexual community, ” Dr Robertson said.
“Syphilis can have serious health implications and it is not something you want to get, or give to someone else.”
The signs and symptoms of syphilis were easily missed, Roberston said.
“The initial ulcer is often painless and heals itself. The rash can be mild and can be easily mistaken for other
conditions. It can impact on your vision, but again can easily be confused with other eye conditions.
“You may not have any symptoms at all so you may not feel any different even though you are infected. That’s why its so
important to get tested, especially if you are pregnant since it can impact on the health of the baby. The good news is
that, if it is detected early, it can be treated and testing is free and easy. ”
Syphilis is spread through unprotected sex, including oral sex. It is diagnosed with a blood test.
The best way to prevent syphilis is to practise safer sex by using condoms and having regular testing.
Testing is free through MidCentral DHB’s Sexual Health Service, the Youth One Stop Shop or a GP. Pregnant women can
contact their midwife.
The sexual health service will close at 12pm on Friday 21 December, and will reopen on Thursday 3 January, 2019. For
urgent medical matters during this time, please contact your GP or an After Hours service.