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High syphilis rate amongst gay and bi men

Wed 18 Dec 2013 In: New Zealand Daily News

An extreme case of syphilis rash Syphilis is alarmingly prevalent amongst NZ gay and bi men and those infected with the sexually transmitted infection are more likely to be also infected with HIV, newly-released research confirms. In a sample group of almost 140 people diagnosed with syphilis in 2011 and 2012, 81% were men who have sex with men across a wide range of ages. Most of the men were infected within New Zealand, according to the latest report just released by the AIDS Epidemiology Group at the University of Otago Medical School. Worryingly, 19% of the gay and bi men with syphilis had also contracted HIV and 16% also had chlamydia. The research confirms international observations that HIV and syphilis infections often go hand in hand and both are indications of probable anal sex without condoms, although in a minority of cases the syphilis infection was likely transmitted through oral sex. Overseas research has shown that people infected with HIV are more likely to transmit that virus if they also have syphilis. In the 1990s syphilis infections had become rare in New Zealand and other affluent nations, largely through increased use of condoms and early treatment. But over the past decade there has been a steady increase. The researchers are recommending that "prevention and early treatment of syphilis should be part of the national strategy for the control of HIV," most cases of which in NZ are transmitted between men who have sex with men. Whilst many of the men in the research group showed no outward signs of the disease it can also be indicated by a firm, painless skin ulceration. If left untreated the ulceration will eventually heal but can lead to secondary syphilis which usually shows up as a rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Other symptoms can include swollen glands, fever and a sore throat. While these symptoms may also disappear with time they can be replaced by latent syphilis which in some people leads to damage to the brain, heart and many other organs. Syphilis, which shows up in a simple blood test even if there are no symptoms, is treatable with antibiotics but any damage already sustained cannot be reversed.    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Wednesday, 18th December 2013 - 1:55am

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