Dating apps blamed for spike in syphilis

A rise in syphilis cases in NZ could be due to dating apps.
KEVIN STENT/FAIRFAX NZ

A rise in syphilis cases in NZ could be due to dating apps.

Health officials are urging people to get themselves a gift this Christmas, in the form of a sexual health check. 

The advice follows the release of a report on sexually transmitted infections, which shows a large spike reported by New Zealand sexual health clinics in the last year.

It is believed the blame may lie, at least in part, with dating apps leading to more unprotected sex.

In 2013, New Zealand sexual health clinics reported 82 cases of syphilis, and in 2014 it had skyrocketed to 140.

The highest number of cases were centred in Auckland with 85 while Canterbury recorded 27.

Canterbury medical officer of health Ramon Pink partly attributed the increase to "dating apps leading to a rise in unprotected sexual encounters".

"There was a big spike in Canterbury a few years ago with the number reported cases increasing from eight in 2010 to 29 in 2012. Since then the number of cases had "remained stable," he said.

Syphilis often went undiagnosed as those who had been infected did not notice any obvious symptoms.

Of the 121 syphilis cases reported amongst gay and bisexual men in 2014, only 37 per cent reported symptoms.

"The majority of people reporting with syphilis have no symptoms. This can mean people become complacent about the risks and end up spreading it unknowingly," Pink said.

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While nearly all reported cases are male, health officials are concerned about the impact of it spreading to the female population.

It was particularly dangerous for pregnant women, as it could cause congenital defects.

The 2014 Institute of Environmental Science and Research Limited sexually transmitted infections surveillance report is released annually, and provides information reported by New Zealand sexual health clinics.

WHAT IS SYPHILIS?

Syphilis produces a painless sore on your penis, anus or in your mouth 10 to 90 days after infection. 

The sore usually scabs and heals after two to six weeks, but the infection remains.

This can progress to secondary syphilis which can produce a generalised rash, often on palms or soles of the feet. If untreated, it can cause damage to your nerves, bones, skin, eyes and brain.

Syphilis is easily treatable, but needs to be diagnosed. Condom use, partner reduction, screening, treatment and contact tracing can reduce transmission.

Sexual health checks are available at general practice, sexual health clinics, the New Zealand Aids Foundation, and Family Planning.

 - Stuff

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