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Syphilis on the rise among gay and bisexual men in London

By Will Stroude

New figures released today show that the majority of syphilis cases recorded in 2015 were found in London-based men who sleep with other men.

According to the report released by Public Health England, 3000 of the 5042 cases were recorded in London, and 90% of them were from gay and bi men.

Since 2010, syphilis cases have risen by 163% in London.

Speaking about the findings, Dr Yvonne Doyle, regional director for PHE London, said: “Worsening sexual health remains one of the biggest public health concerns facing London and it is worrying to see such alarming rises in syphilis year-on-year. Most cases of syphilis are treatable with antibiotics and it is preventable if you practice safe sex.

“I hope today’s report will further raise awareness of sexually transmitted infections including syphilis and drive home the messages about the importance of practising safe sex, which includes using condoms, regularly being tested and avoiding overlapping sexual relationships. All of these will reduce the risk of STIs.”

Syphilis is relatively easy to treat with antibiotics if caught early. However, symptoms can go unnoticed without regular STI screening – so some people aren’t aware of an infection until the illness has progressed.

When left untreated, syphilis can damage your nervous system and will eventually lead to death.

Matthew Hodson, Chief Executive of gay men’s health charity GMFA said: “It seems that use of dating apps, sex venues and chem sex are all playing a major role in the high number of syphilis cases diagnosed among gay men in the last year.

“Over half of the men who were diagnosed with syphilis in these figures were already living with diagnosed HIV, which illustrates how important it is that we consider the full sexual health needs of gay men, and not limit our thinking or our resources solely to preventing HIV infections.

“A man living with HIV man who only has condomless sex with other HIV-positive men is risking transmission of a wide range of STIs, including syphilis and gonorrhoea.”

Sexual health has been in the news in the past few weeks, with the court’s decision that NHS England should provide PrEP to at-risk groups and the subsequent appeal by NHS England making the front pages recently.

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