Everything old is new again
After decreasing dramatically since the widespread availability of penicillin in the 1940s, the rates of syphilis infection have increased since the turn of the millennium in many countries, often in combination with HIV. This has partly been attributed to unsafe sexual practices amongst men who have sex with men (MSM), and a general decrease in the use of condoms.
It was estimated in 1999, that syphilis had infected 12 million people worldwide, with greater than 90 per cent of cases in the developing world.
In 2012, syphilis notifications in Victoria were the highest since the Department of Health began recording them in 1991. This increase was seen in both HIV positive and HIV negative MSM. The largest increase was seen among HIV negative MSM men under the age of 30; however a rebound in the rates/incidence of syphilis amongst MSM aged between 40-60 years of age was also detected.
Among HIV negative MSM, secondary syphilis infection has been most commonly detected, whereas primary infection and reinfection was evidently more common amongst HIV positive MSM, with 50 per cent of infections attributable to non-anal related transmission routes.
To address the wave of recent infections, Living Positive Victoria, in partnership with the Victorian AIDS Council and the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre, has developed a campaign stressing the importance of regular syphilis testing amongst sexually active MSM. The campaign will also focus heavily on recognising syphilis symptoms (emphasising that syphilis can also be asymptomatic), and ways of preventing transmission.
Living Positive Victoria’s campaign will specifically target HIV positive MSM aged between 40-60, and is based on a series of print and web-based campaign images and slogans from US syphilis campaigns from the 1930s and 1940s. These classic public health images and messages have been repurposed with updated text to engage audiences and prompt individuals to seek more information, and to get tested and treated, all with up-to-date and context-specific messaging.
The campaign, which will carry the tongue-in-cheek slogan, ‘Everything Old is New Again’, will be launched in early August, just weeks after the International AIDS Conference 2014. Look out for the posters and postcards that will be distributed across community and social venues. The campaign will also have an online presence on various community health websites, reaching a wider audience.