Syphilis returns to China
Despite being nearly eradicated in China during the 1950s, syphilis has become widespread once again
Syphilis is now the most commonly reported sexually transmitted infection in Shanghai, China’s largest city, and the numbers continue to rise.
All across China, an average of one infant with congenital syphilis was born every hour in 2008, an increase by a factor of 12 over the previous five years.
In a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine, authors Joseph Tucker, Xiang-Sheng Chen and Rosanna Peeling say that the infection has fast become the “major scourge” of China as the country rapidly ascends to the status of a global economic powerhouse.
China’s economic expansion is believed to be a factor. The growing number of Chinese businessmen with money and of young women in poverty has translated into inflated levels of demand and supply for the country’s commercial sex industry.
At the same time, men who have sex with men are also disproportionately bearing the burden of the syphilis epidemic. And in China, at least one third of men who have same-sex relationships are also married.
Syphilis can be successfully treated with antibiotics, however many people never experience symptoms and so are not diagnosed. If left untreated, syphilis can cause neurological problems and death.
“The limited data that are available suggest that fear of being identified as a ‘social deviant’ may steer members of the marginalised groups away from official STI clinics,” the report explains.
The World Health Organization estimates that 12 million people worldwide acquire syphilis each year, affecting about two million pregnancies.
About 25 per cent of those pregnancies result in miscarriages or stillbirths, while 25 per cent of infants who survive are born underweight or with serious infections. Syphilis in newborns also can lead to deafness and bone deformities.
China is not alone is seeing an increase in the incidence of syphilis. Infections are also on the rise in the United States, where again it was all but eliminated ten years ago.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in April that the number of infants born with syphilis rose from eight to 10 cases per 100,000 live births from 2005 to 2008.
<< Back to list of articles Read article 9 >>