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This Victorian Disease Is Making A Worrying Comeback

Photo: Tayler Smith
In troubling sexual health news, a disease best known for being rife during the Victorian era is seeing a resurgence in England.

The prevalence of syphilis has increased by 76% since 2012, from 3,001 cases to 5,288 in 2015, according to Public Health England (PHE). Between 2014 and 2015 alone there was a 20% rise, The Guardian reported.

The bacterial infection is most commonly transmitted through sex and can lead to stroke, paralysis, blindness and even death without treatment. Early symptoms include small infectious sores which last up to eight weeks, according to the NHS.

Syphilis was common in Victorian England and while it was thought to have been wiped out with the introduction of penicillin, the number of diagnoses has risen since 1997, according to the now-defunct Health Protection Agency.

Instances of gonorrhoea have also skyrocketed since 2012, the PHE reported, rising by 53% to 41,193. Symptoms include unusual discharge, pain when urinating, abnormal vaginal bleeding and infertility in the long term, notes the NHS.

Gay men have been particularly affected by the rise in both conditions. Between 2014 and 2015, there was a 21% rise in gonorrhoea cases, and a 19% increase in syphilis.

Overall, the number of cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) diagnosed in sexual health clinics dropped by 3% between 2014 and 2015. Chlamydia is still the most common, making up nearly half (46%) of all cases, followed by first instances of genital warts (16%), non-specific genital infections (10%) and gonorrhoea (10%).

PHE said the drop in the number of STI diagnoses is down to a fall in diagnoses of chlamydia, which dropped by 4%. However, this is no cause for celebration, as the public health body said fewer people are simply being tested for the condition.

Natika H Halil, chief executive of the Family Planning Association, said: “The small decrease from 2014 is in part due to less chlamydia diagnoses from clinics in community settings, which means we must increase opportunities to reach people, like through the National Chlamydia Screening Programme for young people.”

The government advises young people to get tested every year or when they have a new partner, but just 13% of young men and 32% of young women were tested in 2015, reported The Guardian.