Queensland battles syphilis surge with new action plan

Queensland battles syphilis surge with new action plan

In Queensland, cases of infectious syphilis have surged by 600% over the past 15 years, leading to the tragic deaths of over a dozen babies, according to recent data. Last year, Queensland Health recorded five cases of babies contracting the disease from their mothers in the womb, resulting in the heartbreaking loss of four of those infants. This marks the highest number of Queensland deaths from congenital syphilis in a single year this century.

In response to this alarming situation, Health Minister Shannon Fentiman announced the launch of a five-year action plan aimed at curbing the incidence of syphilis and eradicating new cases of congenital syphilis by 2028. The plan will receive an initial $1 million in funding, which will be used to enhance contact tracing efforts and ensure that individuals are promptly notified of potential syphilis exposure and encouraged to undergo testing.

Chief Health Officer John Gerrard underscored the urgency of addressing the syphilis epidemic, emphasizing that congenital syphilis deaths should not occur as the disease is both preventable and curable. He also cautioned that the true extent of the problem may be far greater than the reported cases, as many individuals remain undiagnosed.

The rise in syphilis cases across Queensland, Australia, and globally has been attributed to several factors, including increased numbers of sexual partners, particularly facilitated by dating apps, a diminished perception of HIV as a significant threat among gay men, and a decline in condom usage due to the widespread use of reversible long-acting contraceptives.

To mitigate the spread of syphilis, it is crucial for individuals to seek testing and treatment promptly, particularly for women of childbearing age. Penicillin is an effective treatment for syphilis, and timely treatment can prevent the transmission of the disease to unborn children.

Sexual health physician Darren Russell noted the expanding demographics affected by syphilis in Queensland, including the increasing number of cases among women of reproductive age in the state's south-east, central, and northern regions. He emphasized the importance of early detection and treatment to prevent severe complications.

Griffith University's First Peoples Health Unit director James Charles expressed alarm at the surge in congenital syphilis, describing it as a "tragic" and "extremely alarming" situation. He urged for immediate action to curb the spread of the disease, emphasizing the inadequacy of the Miles government's initial $1 million investment and calling for increased funding to address the issue effectively.