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August 01, 2003 12:40am
Syphilis Rates Soar in Britain
Source: Reuters
by: Richard Woodman

(LONDON, ENGLAND) -- Britain's Health Protection Agency warned on Friday that syphilis rates had soared to the highest level since the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

In its Communicable Diseases Review newsletter, it said diagnoses of infectious syphilis rose by 67% in men and 33% in women between 2001 and 2002.

"Diagnoses of syphilis made in genitourinary medicine clinics are the highest seen since 1984, before the time of widespread awareness to HIV/AIDS in the UK," the report said.

Overall last year, 1163 cases of syphilis were diagnosed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland--1056 in men and 137 in women. Included in the total were 607 cases involving men who had sex with men.

Heterosexual transmission of syphilis is also rising. In South London alone, cases involving sex between men and women had tripled over the past 12 months. Seventeen of the people involved were known to be linked to the sex industry, 20 had had unprotected oral sex and 48 unprotected vaginal sex.

The report said the recent growth in sexual market places, such as saunas, cruising grounds and Internet chat rooms, had increased the opportunity to acquire new sexual partners.

The biggest concentration of syphilis was in London, where 980 people were diagnosed between April 2001 and May this year. In Manchester, 495 cases were reported between January 1999 and the end of June this year.

Other places affected in recent years included Bristol, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Nottingham, Brighton and Northern Ireland.

"The Bristol outbreak was associated with heterosexually acquired infection, commercial sex work, and 'crack' cocaine use, whereas the outbreaks in Brighton, Manchester and London were among men who had sex with men, some of whom had concurrent HIV infection," the report said."

"The characteristics of the outbreaks are very similar to those seen in Western Europe and the United States, infection being associated with high incidence areas, high rates of partner change within risk groups and concurrent HIV infection."

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