Horny Melbournians, get tested and stay wrapped up this winter because we’re dealing with a syphilis outbreak. Specifically, there’s a small but not insignificant rise in the type of syphilis that, if left untreated, can leave you blind.
The Victorian Department of Health is reporting that there’s been a large spike in syphilis among Melbourne’s CBD and neighbouring areas over the last few years. Namely, it analysed data from the last 20 years of infections, revealing that the rate of syphilis has nearly doubled in four years. In 2015, there were just 950 cases per 100,000 people. In 2019, this number rose to 1,673.
The state has reported more than 1400 confirmed cases in the past 12 months with over 570 cases reported in past five months alone. According to the same data, the key hotspots are Melbourne’s CBD, Stonnington, Port Phillip, and the Yarra regions.
Syphilis is a bit of a hard to detect STI because it often is painless and manifests as a sore at first. Per the Victorian Department of Health’s Better Health channel, that stage can last between four to 12 weeks. A sore can appear between three to four weeks after exposure and in areas where there has been sexual contact—think, mouth, rectum, vagina or cervix—and usually heals within four weeks without any treatment. However, this doesn’t mean the syphilis is gone – just a visible symptom.
FYI, if you’re sexually active, you should definitely get tested on the reg anyway, symptoms or no. If left untreated, syphilis can reach the second stage, leading to hair loss, a red skin rash, joint pain, flu-like symptoms, and swollen lymph nodes. If left untreated for longer—like ten to 30 years—it can mutate into a more harmful variation that can target parts of the brain and cause memory loss, tissue damage, and vision problems, as well as a greater chance of birthing defects—miscarriage, stillbirth and premature labour—for female-assigned at birth women.
One of those mutated third stage symptoms, vision impairment, has had a small yet startling rise in the past 13 years. According to The Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, per the ABC, people exhibiting symptoms of the variation, called ocular syphilis, have gone from two in 2006 to a concerning 21 in 2019.
As always, the best prevention against an STI is to wear protection. Whether you’re a guy, gal or non-binary pal, make sure that whatever you insert into your hole or holes—or other’s orifices—is wrapped up; signed, sealed and delivered safely. Oh, and get tested. Regularly. Getting an STI test is really no big deal (trust us), and is something you should be doing regularly and here’s why.