Public Health Wales is warning of an increase in cases of infectious syphilis across Wales and is urging anyone who may have been at risk to seek testing.
Last month, Public Health Wales warned of an increase in cases in North Wales, with 39 cases reported since the middle of 2013 compared with around a usual average of around seven per year.
It has since become apparent that syphilis is also circulating in other areas of Wales with 55 cases reported so far this year in South Wales.
There is evidence that the infection is spreading particularly quickly in people who use dating websites and apps to meet other people for casual sex.
Dr Gwen Lowe, Consultant in Communicable Disease Control for Public Health Wales, said: “We are seeing an increase in cases of syphilis across Wales, the majority being in men who have sex with men.
“However, we also have cases in people who are bisexual and heterosexual, and many of these have become infected after meeting people on dating websites and apps.
“We would advise anyone who thinks they may have been put at risk to contact their local sexual health clinic for a test, as the infection can be treated with antibiotics but can be very serious if left untreated.
“We are also reminding everyone that it’s a good idea to use a condom, not only to avoid syphilis but to avoid the risk of other sexually transmitted infections too.”
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can be passed on through sex including oral sex.
People with syphilis may develop painless ulcers in their genital or mouth area. They may also develop a rash over their body, palms of the hands and soles of their feet.
These symptoms disappear after 2-6 weeks without the person being treated. However, they will remain infected and risk infecting other sexual partners. Syphilis infection in pregnant women may cause serious harm to the baby.
If an infected person does not get treatment syphilis can progress, either leading to early complications requiring admission to hospital or, years after acquiring infection, to the more dangerous form of the disease and cause serious conditions such as stroke, paralysis, blindness, dementia and even death.
The earlier syphilis is treated the less chance there is of serious complications. Treatment will stop the syphilis progressing although it will not reverse any damage already done.
Public Health Wales is already undertaking measures to try to prevent and control the growing number of cases including enhanced surveillance, communication with health professionals and targeted health promotion to the people most at risk.