People are being warned as cases of syphilis and other STIs are dramatically on the rise in England.
The number of diagnosed cases of infectious syphilis are are the highest level since just after the Second World War.
New UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) figures show that overall there were 392,453 diagnoses of new STIs in England in 2022. This is more than 1,000 every day and an increase of 23.8% compared with 2021.
While the rise in cases is, in part, linked to an increase in testing, health officials said the the sharp rise "strongly suggests" there is more transmission of STIs in the population.
The UKHSA said people aged 15 to 24 are most likely to be diagnosed with STIs as it urged those who are having sex with new or causal partners to wear a condom and get tested regularly. It said STIs are usually easily treated with antibiotics but many can cause serious health issues if left untreated.
Infectious syphilis diagnoses increased to 8,692 in 2022, the largest annual number since 1948. The NHS lists the following symptoms as syphilis warning signs:
- small sores (ulcers) on your genitals, or around your bottom – these are usually painless and you may only have one of them
- sores in other areas, including in your mouth or on your lips, hands or bottom
- white or grey warty growths most commonly on your genitals or bottom
- a rash on the palms of your hands and soles of your feet that can sometimes spread all over your body – this is not usually itchy
- white patches in your mouth
- flu-like symptoms, such as a high temperature, headaches and tiredness
- swollen glands
- patchy hair loss on the head, beard and eyebrows
NHS guidance continues: "It can take 3 weeks or more for the symptoms of syphilis to appear after you're infected. Sometimes the symptoms can improve or go away completely, but if you have not been treated the infection is still in your body.
"This means you can still pass it on and you're at risk of getting serious problems later on."
Syphilis can cause potentially life-threatening problems with the brain, heart or nerves.
Other STI cases are rising too. Dr Hamish Mohammed, consultant epidemiologist at UKHSA said: "We saw more gonorrhoea diagnoses in 2022 than ever before, with large rises, particularly in young people. STIs aren't just an inconvenience - they can have a major impact on your health and that of any sexual partners.
"Condoms are the best defence but if you didn't use one the last time you had sex with a new or casual partner, get tested to detect any potential infections early and prevent passing them on to others. Testing is important because you may not have any symptoms of an STI."
New figures have also worryingly shown children as young as 13 have been diagnosed with the sexually transmitted infection.
If you think you could have an STI you can make an appointment to go to a sexual health clinic for testing and treatment.
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