Huge jump in number of recorded syphilis cases in Ireland this year

The HSE is investigating a significant jump in the number of syphilis cases in Ireland this year, with a 43% increase recorded from the same period last year.

Between January 1st 2020 and August 21st 2020, there were 349 cases of Early Infectious Syphilis (EIS) detected. Over the same period in 2021, there have been 498 cases – a 43% increase from the year before.

The vast majority (79%) of these were detected in the east of the country.

Syphilis, if gone untreated, can spread to the brain and nervous system, or the eyes. Symptoms can include severe headaches, difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness and dementia. Ocular syphilis can even lead to blindness.

While the disease can be cured, treatment may be unable to undo damage that has already been done according to the US CDC.

Notably, syphilis cases tend to affect slightly older young adults compared to other STIs – while sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia tend to be most prevalent in the 20-24 age cohort, syphilis has the highest incidence in the age brackets of 25-29 and 30-34.

While the vast majority of those affected have been male historically, the number of female cases are increasing steadily – in 2018, 4.5% of syphilis cases were women. In 2021, that figure is 8% – almost double. Naturally, this means that 92% of recorded cases were men.

While the cause of transmission was unknown in 67% of cases, for the data that was available, 34% of cases were from heterosexual activity.

The HSE said that they were engaging in the promotion of “Safer sex practices,” adding that “regular testing among at risk groups such as HIV positive MSM (men who have sex with men), and those with multiple partners, are key to the prevention.”

Syphilis is just one of many STIs which have been increasing in recent years in Ireland, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and herpes.

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