Department of Health

New campaign to curb syphilis cases in Mildura

Published by Department of Health & Human Services

A new campaign is urging Mildura residents to look after their sexual health following an increase in syphilis cases since 2017.

Victoria’s Acting Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Mihaela Ivan today launched the campaign running across all local media and social media encouraging locals to start talking about syphilis, to get tested, seek treatment and practice safer sex.

It will also work directly with local organisations, Aboriginal communities and multicultural groups and healthcare providers to help raise better awareness and improve testing, treatment and care.

“Since January 2017, there have been 76 cases of infectious syphilis in Mildura, of which 50 per cent were in women,” Dr Ivan said.

“Across Victoria generally, women account for only 11 per cent of infectious syphilis cases.

“This is of concern as syphilis can be transmitted from mother to baby during pregnancy and at birth, called congenital syphilis. It is also entirely preventable.”

Across Victoria, reported cases of infectious syphilis rose from 636 cases in 2014 to 1659 cases in 2019. In 2020, numbers dropped to 1453 cases likely due to reduced testing during the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Since 2017, there have been 12 cases of congenital syphilis in Victoria. Prior to 2017, there were just two cases in the previous 20 years. 

Syphilis is a sexually transmissible infection (STI). It is estimated that around one in every six people will get an STI – and most don’t even know it.

Dr Ivan said all sexually active people are at risk and should be aware of syphilis and other STIs.

“We are urging both men and women to get tested, as there may be undiagnosed cases in Mildura. If you’re sexually active – you need to get an STI test at least every 12 months,” Dr Ivan said.

“Many STIs have no signs or symptoms – so testing is crucial to diagnosing the infection. A blood test to detect syphilis is quick, easy and confidential and early treatment is effective. If left untreated, STIs can cause long term effects on the body, including infertility.

“And anyone planning or having a family should get tested to prevent passing on the syphilis infection. Syphilis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth and serious birth defects in the baby.”

Dr Ivan said during the COVID-19 pandemic, we know people are concerned about visiting their doctor or specialist for a check-up or attending regular health screenings.

“Our message is don’t delay any medical appointments – getting an STI test or a sexual health check-up is a valid reason to leave home during the current COVID-19 restrictions,” Dr Ivan said,

“We also encourage women to keep their antenatal appointments and get tested during pregnancy to reduce the risk of congenital syphilis.”

Dr Ivan said it is important to let your sexual partner or partners know that you have syphilis so that they can be tested and treated. This will help prevent you getting re-infected. 

“STIs don’t care about age, sexuality, income or where you live. You can help reduce your risk of syphilis by always practicing safer sex – always use a condom, they are your best protection. Remember that syphilis may also be spread through oral sex,” Dr Ivan said.

The Victorian Government has provided $100,000 to support community and health professional awareness and public health action for this important issue in Mildura.

Testing is available from your local doctor, Sunraysia Community Health Service and Mallee District Aboriginal Services. You can also let your partner or partners know about syphilis anonymously through the online services Let them Know or Drama Downunder.

For more information visit Syphilis page on Better Health Channel.

Reviewed 20 October 2021


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