21st century comeback?

A public health poster from the 1940s and 50s urging men to get tested and treated for syphilis.

THE WA Aids Council is urging Sandgropers to get regularly tested for syphilis after notifications were up 20 per cent since last year.

Typically viewed as an old-school STI, syphilis could be set for a 21st century comeback with notification rates shooting up 40 per cent for men who have sex with men and more than doubling for heterosexuals since 2015, according to the WA health department.

There was even one case of congenital syphilis, transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy, in the first quarter of last year.

Syphilis is caused by a bacteria found in the blood and can be transmitted during sex, close skin-to-skin contact and through the placenta during pregnancy.

If left untreated it can lead to skin lesions and eventually cardiovascular and/or neurological disease.

But about 50 per cent of cases show no symptoms at all, so it’s important to get tested.

“We as a community have recently learnt the value of contact tracing to break the cycle of transmission, so if you do test positive for syphilis it’s important to alert your sexual partners that may have been affected,” says the WA Aids Council.

“That means for primary syphilis, notify anyone you’ve had sex with for the duration of the symptoms and three months prior, and for secondary, anyone whilst you were experiencing symptoms and six months prior to that.

“Testing is the key here, as condoms are not always foolproof when it comes to syphilis. Luckily, we’re getting a leg up against congenital syphilis, as we test as part of the routine antenatal screen, but it’s important to include syphilis in routine STI checks.”

The WA Aids Council holds free sexual health testing for men at the Perth Steam Works in Northbridge, every Tuesday from 2pm to 4pm, where they also give out free condoms.

It had been closed for six months due to covid-19 restrictions and reopened in August.

The WA Aids Council also recently launched a free-of-charge LGBTIQA+ youth counselling service for 14 to 26 year olds.

WA Aids Council councillor Alex Kendrew says that since the pandemic there has been a spike in young people asking for help with anxiety.

“Youth Counselling is tremendously helpful for young people who don’t necessarily have an outlet or a means of expressing themselves and what’s going on in their lives in a non-judgemental environment,” he says.

“The young people we are supporting report great relief at being able to talk about things that concern them without having to worry about how a parent, guardian or peer will react. This builds resilience and stronger belief in self.”

Mr Kendrew says they have also launched a telehealth counselling service for rural and remote communities living with or affected by HIV. 

“At the moment I support two clients living remotely via our telehealth service.”

For more info go to waaids.com

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