Syphilis Technical Report (Australia) 2009

In September 2008, the Blood Borne Virus and STIs Subcommittee (BBVSS) of the Australian Population Health Development Principal Committee committed to the development of a National Syphilis Action Plan (NSAP) as a priority area for action. Phase A of the plan involved determining the variables and targets to underpin the shared goal of reducing the incidence of syphilis among gay men. Detailed mathematical modelling research was carried out to investigate the expected epidemiological impact of a large number of potential interventions and this was complemented by social research on the acceptability of interventions among gay men as ascertained in focus group sessions.

A technical workshop was held on 25 June, 2009 to review the background modelling and social research and summaries of international and local responses to syphilis epidemics carried out thus far, and to establish recommendations for the NSAP. 

Key findings
  • Priority 1: Gay men are encouraged to test for syphilis as it pertains to their level of risk: The more sexually active the individual gay man then the more often he should be tested. For sexually-active gay men in general, testing for syphilis should be linked to other routine testing.
  • Priority 2: Easier ways for notifying sexual partners discreetly should be created. The goal is to quantifiably observe an increase in the rate of partner notification. To decrease stigma, increased education about syphilis is required.
  • Priority 3: There is general agreement that the proposed syphilis chemoprophylaxis (‘syphilaxis’) trial should proceed as soon as is practical. It is recommended that possible Australian funding sources for the trial be investigated.