Worry at syphilis outbreak in city

by Kim O Leary
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By Kim O’Leary

Irish health officials are warning of a national outbreak of syphilis, with 40 per cent of cases in Dublin.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection usually spread by sexual contact. Untreated, it can cause serious health problems to the heart, braain, eyes and nervous system, and complications may take many years to develop.

According to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), a national outbreak of early infectious syphilis (EIS) was declared and has been under investigation last month.

There were 242 cases reported in the first four months of this year in Ireland, with almost 100 of these cases in Dublin. According to latest data released by the HPSC, 223 men developed syphilis compared to 22 women.

The bacterial infection was found to be most prevalent in the 30-35 years with 55 cases and in people aged 25-29 years of age with 48 cases.

Health authorities have said that the situation requires “urgent action” after a small decrease in cases in 2020 – coinciding with the first wave of Covid – has now reversed.

In 2019, there were 745 confirmed cases of EIS reported, a 54% increase from the previous year (484 cases).

The number of notifications decreased in April 2020 (first wave of COVID-19), but following this decrease, they increased throughout 2020, with a total of 562 cases reported in 2020.

While the data for 2021 is incomplete, indications signify that EIS notifications are increasing and exceeding those seen in the previous year, with an increase seen in female cases.

“There is a potentially large undiagnosed reservoir of syphilis infection in Ireland due in part to the impact of Covid-19,” the HPSC said.

Common symptoms of secondary syphilis include a non-itchy rash can occur anywhere on the body, flu-like symptoms; tiredness, headaches, joint pains, fever, hair loss, lymphadenopathy, painful eyes or blurring of vision.

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