Health officials in England say the rate of syphilis diagnoses is 3 times higher in London than anywhere else in England. In 2015, nearly 3,000 cases were diagnosed in the capital, accounting for 56% of all cases in England (5,042), according to a new report published today.
Syphilis has been diagnosed in all 33 London local authorities and in 2015 most saw an increase in numbers. Cases of syphilis have been reported among heterosexuals and men who have sex with men (MSM).
However, MSM are disproportionately affected by the infection. Despite representing around 2% of the London population, in 2015 MSM made up 90% of all syphilis cases. This group has seen an 18% increase in cases from 2014 to 2015 alone.
This continued rise in syphilis cases in the capital suggests that too many Londoners are putting themselves at risk through unsafe sex.
With cases of syphilis continuing to increase in recent years (since 2010, cases among Londoners have soared by 163%) PHE is raising awareness of syphilis and reminding Londoners to practice safe sex, which prevents infection.
Dr Yvonne Doyle, regional director for PHE London, said:
Worsening sexual health remains one of the biggest public health concerns facing London and it is worrying to see such alarming rises in syphilis year-on-year. Most cases of syphilis are treatable with antibiotics and it is preventable if you practice safe sex.
We are seeing large increases in cases of syphilis among men who have sex with men and they now represent 90% of syphilis cases in London. Although diagnoses among heterosexuals in the capital are more stable they too continue to be higher than we would like given the effective preventative measures in place.
In London, we have excellent open access sexual health services providing free STI testing and treatment, notification for the sexual partners of those diagnosed with an STI and free provision of contraception. With these services available across the capital there is no reason for people to be taking unnecessary risks with their sexual health.
I hope today’s report will further raise awareness of sexually transmitted infections including syphilis and drive home the messages about the importance of practising safe sex, which includes using condoms, regularly being tested and avoiding overlapping sexual relationships. All of these will reduce the risk of STIs.
Improving the sexual health of Londoners is a priority area for PHE London and we will continue to work with partners across the healthcare system to reduce the burden of poor sexual health in the capital.