In the past six years, six babies in Queensland have died from syphilis – an STD that had been nearly eradicated in 2000.
Cairns sexual health clinician Dr Darren Russell shared an interview with ABC News last week about the outbreak of syphilis currently sweeping through Queensland. In 2008 only two cases of syphilis were diagnosed and treated, but 10 years later that number has drastically spiked to more than 1100 cases over the past decade, with over 200 presentations a year.
The treatment for syphilis all but saw the disease almost completely eradicated 10 years ago, with a simple course of penicillin being the antidote. But shockingly the disease has now reached epidemic proportions and claimed the life of six babies born in Queensland.
“Here we are with a good test, good treatment and we still can’t get on top of it. I’m appalled this is still happening,” said Dr Russell.
The cause of the outbreak has been attributed to a government cut in sexual health services across Queensland in 2011. What started out as a handful of cases quickly escalated and spiraled out of control.
It took another five years for both State and Federal Governments to recognise the issue needed addressing, with a $15.7million campaign launching to increase awareness and testing for the STD.
Syphilis can take up to six months for the infected person to present symptoms which has been a big part of the problem. Unfortunately for pregnant women who have contracted the STD, syphilis can cross the placenta giving the baby only a 50 per cent chance of survival if the mother is infected.
The outbreak is severely impacting Indigenous communities in remote parts of Australia and has now spread to parts of Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. The Australian Medical Association has called for a national Centre for Disease Control to help get the outbreak under control.
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