Health Professionals are urging New Zealanders to wear condoms and get tested regularly following a rise in the number of Syphilis cases in New Zealand. The Infection, caused by the bacterium Treponema Pallidum, is highly contagious and spread primarily through unprotected sexual activity. 470 New Zealanders contracted Syphilis last year – an increase that is double the number of cases from 2015. Since 2017 there have also been four cases of stillborn babies who have died as a result of untreated Syphilis.
The Royal Australasian College of Physicians have released an open letter in which President, Dr. Jeff Brown indicated that the Ministry of Health response to the growing number of Syphilis cases was “totally inadequate”. Dr. Brown also noted that there are only eight full time Sexual Health specialists across New Zealand. Data from the Ministry of Health noted that the highest number of cases occurred in Males aged 20-39 in the Auckland and Wellington regions. In particular, 70% of these cases were reported from Gay/Bisexual men. The Royal Australasian College of Physicians noted in their letter that the Ministry had, at some level, implied that the growing Syphilis epidemic could be linked to a possible decrease in condom use amongst Gay and Bisexual Men as a result of the funding of new HIV Prevention medicine, Truvada. However the College pointed out that the funding of this medicine only came into effect in March and the number of Syphilis Cases has been rising since 2013. Furthermore, Truvada requires STD Testing on a regular three-month basis, increasing the likelihood of a Syphilis infection being detected.
The rise in Syphilis cases follows an international trend that has been observed in Australia, the United Kingdom and United States. The Ministry of Health have released a media statement noting the growing number of cases however there has been no significant change in testing protocol or marketing for increased testing.