About

Syphilis diagnoses more than tripled in a decade

Share
National syphilis diagnoses have more than tripled since 2013, according to a new report on sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Syphilis

National syphilis diagnoses have more than tripled since 2013, according to a new report on sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

UNSW’s Kirby Institute found STI rates have increased over the last ten years despite a dip in testing during the pandemic. A record 153,600 STIs have been reported this year, up from a 2019 peak of 150,600 infections.

The data used in the findings does not differentiate sex or gender characteristics beyond ‘male’ and ‘female’.

The report’s findings are based on data from the Australian National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System.

Syphilis

Syphilis is a bacterial STI that spreads through unprotected sexual contact. This STI can often be symptomless, but it can cause sores and rashes.

The report found rates of syphilis are higher in men who have sex with men and remote First Nations communities. However, syphilis diagnoses among women also increased by more than six times between 2013 and 2023.

Infections were the highest among people aged 25 to 29.

Congenital syphilis

If left undiagnosed or untreated, syphilis can be passed on to a foetus. This is known as congenital syphilis.

From 2016 to 2022, 18 cases of congenital syphilis resulted in the death of an infant, including stillbirths. Of these, 11 were among First Nations people. In 2023, there were 19 cases of reported congenital syphilis.

Bacteria from untreated syphilis can also lead to other health issues like heart, brain, eye, and spinal cord damage.

Chlamydia

Chlamydia – an STI spread through unprotected sexual contact – is more common in women. Symptoms can include pain when urinating or during sex and unusual discharge.

Nationally, reported cases increased by 12% over the past decade. Chlamydia was the most reported STI in 2023, with over 106,000 diagnosed cases. The majority of these cases were in people aged 15 to 29.

Report co-author Dr Skye McGregor estimated “less than half” of young women with chlamydia get tested.

Gonorrhoea

Gonorrhoea is an STI caused by bacteria. It can cause pain when urinating or during sex and unusual discharge.

Gonorrhoea cases have more than doubled since 2013 to over 38,700 cases nationally in 2023. Nearly 70% of these cases were in men.

The report also found First Nations people were five times more likely to be diagnosed with gonorrhoea than non-Indigenous people.

Progress

Despite record infection rates, the report found Australia has made “significant progress in the elimination of genital warts”. Researchers attributed this to Australia’s status as a “leader in the rollout of the HPV vaccine”.

Dr McGregor said that “condoms remain highly effective at preventing STIs, and regular STI testing is crucial.”

Become smarter in three minutes

Get the daily email that makes reading the news actually enjoyable. Stay informed, for free.

Be the smart friend in your group chat

Join thousands of young Aussies and get our 5 min daily newsletter on what matters in your world.

It’s easy. It’s trustworthy. It’s free.