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Irish health bosses warn of syphilis outbreak as over 240 cases reported from Jan to April

"There is a potentially large undiagnosed reservoir of syphilis infection in Ireland due in part to the impact of Covid-19"

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Neasa Cumiskey

Irish health officials have warned of a national outbreak of early infectious syphilis.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a type of bacteria that can lead to serious health problems in both men and women if left untreated.

According to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), a national outbreak of early infectious syphilis (EIS) has been declared and has been under investigation in Ireland since June 2021.

Many STI clinics and services have been operating at a reduced capacity since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the HPSC warns that there may be a substantial amount of undiagnosed EIS cases as a result.

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“There is a potentially large undiagnosed reservoir of syphilis infection in Ireland due in part to the impact of Covid-19,” a HPSC spokesperson said.

“Syphilis is a very treatable sexually transmitted infection (STI) and early recognition and treatment are critical to preventing avoidable morbidity for those infected and onward transmission to others.”

Prior to the pandemic, syphilis cases had been on the rise and were identified as an area of concern for the HPSC. While there was a small decrease in cases that coincided with Ireland’s coronavirus lockdown in 2020, cases are now on the rise again.

Although 2021 data is incomplete, the HPSC say that EIS cases are exceeding the numbers reported in 2019 and previous years.

A total of 562 EIS cases were recorded in 2020, a significant decrease from the 745 confirmed cases reported in 2019, although this has been linked to the first wave of the pandemic.

There have been 242 cases reported between 1st January and 30th April 2021.

91pc of cases were reported in males but there has been an increase in female cases and in heterosexual transmission.

Dublin, Kildare, and Wicklow accounted for 79pc of cases, followed by 9pc in Cork and Kerry, and 4pc in Limerick, Clare, and Tipperary North.

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