The disease that may have killed Oscar Wilde, laid low Casanova and possibly sent Hitler crazy is making a unwanted comeback in Northern Ireland.
Leading sexual health experts warn that syphilis is on the rise in Northern Ireland and are calling on the health minister to tackle the outbreak.
A decade ago the disease was almost eradicated from from the
province, but those on the front line say they are seeing a “worrying increase” in the number of cases.
The latest available Sexually Transmitted Infection surveillance figures show that in 2011, 52 new cases were diagnosed, but Dr Wallace Dinsmore of the GUM clinic at the Royal Victoria Hospital says those statistics are out of date.
He said: “Syphilis is something that we thought had gone from the province, now it is a daily occurrence.
“We have cases of babies affected by syphilis once every two weeks, which is something we had not seen for decades.
“The service has been under invested for the past 30 or 40 years, despite the sharp rise in incidence of STIs, including syphilis.”
The spread of the infection is very simply because more people are having unprotected sex more often.
With NI Sexual Health Week beginning tomorrow, agencies are coming together to appeal for the Health Minister to take action.
North Belfast DUP MLA Paula Bradley, chair of the All Party Group on Sexual Health, has organised an event at Stormont on Tuesday to raise awareness among the public and politicians.
She said: “Syphilis is spreading, as is gonorrhoea, and it's clear that sexual health services are under real pressure.
“I know that those working at the GUM clinic in the Royal are finding it really hard to cope with the level of demand.
“We need investment in the service and to get sexual health on the agenda at Stormont.”
It isn’t just the NHS services seeing an increase in demand, private clinics are also experiencing a soar in numbers — such as Randox, which has developed the Confidante home STI test kit.
Dr Gary Smyth, Medical Director at Confidante, says: “Syphilis is an STI which if left untreated can cause mental deterioration, blindness, deafness and eventually leads to early death.
“We need to encourage anyone who thinks they may be infected to take the test, whether that is by using a kit at home or by visiting the GUM clinic.”