A fresh alert about the dire state of the sexual health ofLondoners was sounded today as new figures showed soaring rates of syphilis.
The sexually transmitted infection was diagnosed in almost 3,000 patients as concern mounted about “high-risk” practices such as “chemsex”, dating apps, unprotected sex and people seeking HIV-positive partners.
Syphilis, which can cause damage to the cardiovascular system and central nervous system if left untreated and can prove fatal, is seen as a key marker of unsafe sexual activity with numerous partners.
Today’s figures from Public Health England reveal there were 2,811 cases in London last year, up 22 per cent from the 2,306 recorded in 2014.
Since 2010 the number of cases of syphilis in the capital has soared 163 per cent, meaning rates are now three times higher than in the rest of the country.
The infection is transmitted through sexual activity, including oral sex. Last year in London more than 90 per cent of cases involved men who have gay sex.
The highest rates of infection were in Lambeth, where 447 cases were recorded, and in Southwark, where there were 290 cases. London boroughs made up 18 of the top 20 boroughs in the country for highest infection rates.
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. Although diagnoses among heterosexuals in the capital are more stable they too continue to be higher than we would like.”
Dr Patrick French, a sexual health specialist and genitourinary medicine consultant at Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, said: “When I started working in sexual health in London we might have diagnosed four or five people with syphilis in a year — we can now see that number of people with syphilis in a day or two.
“The increase we are seeing in syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections is a marker of a more general problem within sexual health and tackling this must be a priority across London.”
Although most cases of syphilis are treatable with antibiotics, people can be infected and not show any symptoms for years. Primary syphilis often emerges after three to four weeks with a painless ulcer or rash (lasting for three to six weeks) on the genitals, rectum or inside the mouth.
Secondary syphilis causes fever, headaches and night sweats. If left untreated, it can progress into latent and late stage syphilis, characterised by cardiovascular problems and central nervous disease.