Public Health England (PHE) has issued an action plan to tackle the rising number of syphilis infections in England.
The number of infectious syphilis diagnoses in England has significantly risen between 2008 and 2018. There has been an increase of 5.5 per cent between 2017 and 2018 alone. Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) account for 75 per cent of the diagnoses; however, rates of heterosexual infection and congenital syphilis have also witnessed an increase.
It is essential to reinforce public health measures to curtail the transmission of syphilis; however, there are several challenges to this. Although national guidelines recommend frequent testing in high-risk MSM, surveillance data indicate this is not being consistently practiced. Additionally, MSM have inadequate knowledge and awareness of syphilis.
The action plan for syphilis is based on optimising four key pillars critical to syphilis control and prevention:
- Increase the frequency of testing in high-risk MSM and re-testing following treatment.
- Deliver partner notification to the British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) standards.
- Maintain high coverage and vigilance for antenatal syphilis screening.
- Sustain targeted health promotion.
These action points need to be supported by enhancing awareness and knowledge of syphilis among health professionals, strengthening epidemiological intelligence and developing diagnostics and research.