NHS Lanarkshire responds to rise in cases of syphilis

NHS Lanarkshire is responding to a rise in the number of cases of syphilis diagnosed by its Sexual Health Service.

Health staff are urging people who think they may be at risk to get tested for syphilis.

NHS Lanarkshire is working jointly with Health Protection Scotland, Terrence Higgins Trust, Waverley Care and North and South Lanarkshire Health and Social Care Partnerships to address the issue.

They are raising awareness to prevent further infections occurring and to encourage anyone who may have become infected to see their GP or attend a sexual health clinic in order to be assessed and tested.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted by vaginal, anal and oral sex.

People with syphilis may develop a sore in the genital area or in their mouth. They may also develop a rash over their body, palms of the hands and soles of the feet. These symptoms may disappear without the person being aware of them.

If syphilis is not treated, it will progress and can cause serious damage to the heart, arteries and the nervous system.

Dr Anne McLellan, Lead Clinician for NHS Lanarkshire’s Sexual Health Service, said: “Although the overall number of cases of syphilis diagnosed by the Sexual Health Service in Lanarkshire remains fairly low, we are seeing a definite increase this year. We have particularly seen an increase in heterosexuals aged 20-40 and men who have sex with men, who have been diagnosed with syphilis.

“Because of this increase, we are reinforcing the importance of getting tested and practicing safer sex using a condom and, where appropriate, lubricant.”

Although the overall numbers of cases in Lanarkshire are typically lower than in some areas of Scotland, additional action is being taken due to the recent increase.

People can get tested by making an appointment with their GP or by attending a sexual health clinic.

Dr McLellan said: “Our advice is that if you have a new sexual partner both of you should have a sexual health check-up, including a blood test, to make sure you are not putting each other at risk of syphilis, or any other sexually transmitted infection.

“Anyone who thinks they have symptoms of syphilis, or are otherwise at risk of infection, should also be tested. Once diagnosed, treatment for syphilis is both effective and usually straightforward.”

People can make a sexual health clinic appointment by calling 0300 303 0251. The line is open Monday to Friday 9.00 am to 4.45pm. Alternatively, check the services section of the website for drop-in clinics which do not require an appointment.

What is Syphilis?

  • Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (known as an STI) that affects both men and women. It can be passed on easily through sex, including oral sex.
  • Often, there are no symptoms, so you may not know you have it.
  • If you do have symptoms, they may include small red ulcers/sores that appear 10 days to 6 weeks after infection. You can also have a rash, most commonly on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet and can also be over your chest, back and abdomen, which may appear up to six months after the infection.

How do you test for Syphilis?

  • A blood test is required.
  • If you have an ulcer/sore, a swab will be taken.

Can syphilis be treated?

  • Yes. The treatment is with antibiotics. It is important you and your partner are treated and return for a follow-up visit to check the infection has gone.

How can it be prevented?

You can help prevent syphilis by practicing safer sex. This includes:

  • Using a condom every time you have sex with new partners or until you have both been checked out for sexually transmitted infections.
  • Reducing the number of sexual partners you have.
  • Having regular sexual health check-ups at your local sexual health clinics where specially trained staff will see you. If diagnosed, treatment and follow up will help prevent the spread of infection.

Where can I go to get tested?

  • Contact 0300 303 0251 for access to your nearest sexual health clinic. Lines are open from 9.00am to 4.45pm, Monday to Friday. These clinics are for people who have symptoms or wish to speak to a specially trained member of staff.
  • Attend one of the drop-in clinics, listed in the services section of the website.
  • Your GP can offer testing.

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