Syphilis ulcers on the tongue

Syphilis ulcers on the tongue
Cases of syphilis in New Zealand have soared in the past decade with Māori men and women most at risk, shocking government data has revealed.

According to figures from the Ministry of Health there were 82 reported cases of syphilis in 2013 but that number rose to 548 in the past 12 months to March.

Researchers found that cases of syphilis were most common among men aged 20 to 39 years.

The groups most affected by syphilis are Asian and Māori men, and Māori women. Around 70 per cent of cases affected homosexual men.

The majority of recent cases have been in recorded in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.

Historically gay men have been most at risk but the number of heterosexual couples contracting the disease are on the rise.

Numbers of women passing the condition on to their unborn babies, known as congenital syphilis, are also increasing.

Syphilis can cause birth defects, miscarriage or stillbirth.

Suzanne Werder, from Auckland, has worked as a nurse in the sexual health field for the past 25 years, said there was not a clear explanation behind the rise of syphilis.

'Part of the reason is that infections are cyclical. If you look over time there are cycles of infections,' Ms Werder told

In the Auckland region, there were 245 cases reported in the last 12 months to March 2019.

During that same period, Canterbury had 60 reported cases, Wellington had 55, and Waikato had 50.

There were also 25 cases reported in the Bay of Plenty, Taranaki had 19 and Northland had 10.

When compared to other areas, Auckland had 0.015 per cent of all reported cases while other locations had 0.01 per cent.

The Ministry of Health's deputy director of public health, Dr Niki Stefanogiannis. said cases are also rising in the UK and parts of Australia.
Syphilis lesions on the patients ankle

Lesions on a patients ankle caused by secondary syphilis
'Given the current high rates of syphilis in New Zealand and internationally, a test is incredibly important for anyone who thinks they may be at risk of having syphilis,' Ms Stefanogiannis said.

There are three stages of infection, with the first consisting of a painless ulcer usually in the genital areas or mouth that appears within the first three weeks.

During this stage, which can last from three to six weeks, the ulcers or sexual fluids are very contagious.

If left untreated, the infection enters its second stage with ulcers and watery lesions appearing on the body, including hands, soles of the feet, or on the tongue.

Other early symptoms include feeling sick, foggy in the brain, unusual rashes, and hair loss if the rash occurs on the scalp.

'All those things, you can put down to stress, viral infection, all that sort of stuff - you can explain it away and that's why testing is so important,' Ms Werder said.

If the infection is left untreated for a long period of time, the third stage can severely damage the heart, brain, nerves, blood vessels, liver, eye and joints.

About 50 per cent of people with syphilis don't show any symptoms and don't know about the infection unless they have a blood test.

Ms Werder urged those who have been infected to seek treatment.