North Coast Syphilis Outbreak Warning

Hand wearing blue glove holding a blood sample which states positive to syphilis

North Coast Population and Public Health is encouraging the community to stay on alert and get tested, with a sharp rise in syphilis cases reported across the Mid North Coast and Northern Rivers regions.

Syphilis remains a significant issue across the NSW North Coast, which is currently experiencing an increase in cases far higher than the five-year average.

Director North Coast Population and Public Health, Dr Valerie Delpech, said since 2020, infectious syphilis cases in the North Coast have increased each year, with 29 cases in 2020, 41 cases in 2021 and 85 notifications in 2022.

“This increase reflects an unprecedented number of cases, especially amongst young heterosexuals and those who engage in casual unprotected sex,” Dr Delpech said.

“Syphilis does not always present symptoms. We suspect there are many other cases of infectious syphilis in the community that are undiagnosed, so early testing and treatment is key to helping us control this outbreak.

“We are encouraging all sexually active people, particularly those who have multiple sexual partners or unprotected casual sex, to talk to their GP or visit their Sexual Health Service to be tested, even if they are not experiencing symptoms.”

For those with symptoms, the first sign of syphilis is the appearance of sores or ulcers at the site of the infection.

Syphilis can be transmitted by unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex. During pregnancy it can be transmitted from mother to her unborn baby, leading to stillbirth or permanent disability of the baby.

Though syphilis can cause serious health problems, it is easily tested and cured. Regular check-ups are needed to prevent passing the infection on to other people and to avoid long-term health consequences.

Confidential testing for and treatment of sexually transmissible infections is free of charge through your GP, Aboriginal Medical Service or local Sexual Health Clinics at Tweed Heads, Lismore, Grafton, Coffs Harbour, Kempsey or Port Macquarie.

For sexual health support and information, call the NSW Sexual Health Infolink on 1800 451 624 (weekdays 9am to 5.30pm), visit NSW Health’s Play Safe website.

  • Clinic 33
    Free of charge confidential testing and treatment for syphilis at Coffs Harbour, Grafton, Kempsey and Port Macquarie.
  • Syphilis testing and treatment can also be accessed through GPs or Aboriginal Medical Services.
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