Scotland health officials are reporting an increase in syphilis cases, in fact, overall incidence of infectious syphilis in Scotland was at its highest level since implementation of the current surveillance system in 2002/2003.


A total of 356 diagnoses of infectious syphilis were reported during 2016 a 13% increase on that reported in 2015 (316) and the highest number recorded since the previous peak annual total of 260 recorded in 2008, according to Health Protection Scotland data. The number of diagnoses doubled between the end of 2014 and the beginning of 2015 and has continued to rise through 2016.

Of the 356 diagnoses, the majority (94%, 336) were male and the remaining 6% (20) were female. Of the males, 295 (88%) were MSM (35 of whom identified themselves as bisexual), 34 (10%) were heterosexual, and for seven (2%) no sexual orientation data were available.

While oral sex is often considered as a ‘safe’ alternative to penetrative sex, syphilis infection is readily transmitted by this route. Of those MSM who provided information about this, 35% (63/178) confirmed that oral sex was the most likely route of transmission.

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As in recent years, the internet and phone apps are the most popular methods of meeting partners.

Health officials say syphilis remains an important public health problem, particularly among MSM.

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Activities for prevention and control of syphilis infection focus on testing and diagnoses, effective partner management and also on health promotion, education and awareness-raising, either via national campaigns or local initiatives.