A significant increase in syphilis cases in New Zealand has prompted health officials to urge the public to practice safe sex, including the use of condoms.

The incidence of syphilis has been on the rise in New Zealand since 2012.  Provisional data from the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) Ltd, indicates that the number of syphilis cases reported in 2017 has more than doubled since 2015, with 470 cases reported.


The highest number of cases were reported in males aged 20-39 years, particularly those in the 25-29 age group, in the Auckland and Wellington regions.  Nearly 70% of the cases were reported in men who have sex with men (MSM) and nearly 21% of these cases were also HIV positive.

MSM remains the group most affected by syphilis.  However over recent years there has also been a steady increase in cases diagnosed in heterosexual males and females in New Zealand. For women the highest number of cases reported in 2017 was in the 20–39 years age group.

Similar trends have been seen in Australia, the UK and the US in recent years, with cases first increasing in MSM, followed by the heterosexual population, with an increased risk of congenital syphilis if pregnant women are affected.

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The Ministry of Health’s Director of Public Health Dr Caroline McElnay says the ministry is committed to seeing a reverse in this trend.

Dr McElnay says there are a number of key messages to remind people how best to prevent the transmission of syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections (STI).

“Transmission of these STIs can be reduced by using condoms every time with casual sexual partners; and regular partners.”

“If you have unprotected sex, or more than one sexual partner, the Ministry of Health encourages you to get tested even if you don’t have any symptoms.”

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Sexually Transmitted Infections: Those common and those not so common, Part 2

Sexually Transmitted Infections: Those common and those not so common, Part 1