Syphilis cases have reached the highest level since 1949 following a rise in unsafe sex as fears about HIV have faded, new figures suggest.
The official data shows the number of diagnoses has doubled in five years, with most cases occuring in gay and bisexual men.
It follows warnings from health officials that risky sexual behaviours – including unprotected activity, “chem sex,” the use of “hookup” apps such as Grindr – and “poz” parties where HIV positive men select sexual partners – are fuelling the rise.
The figures from Public Health England show 5,920 syphilis diagnoses in 2016 – a rise of 12 per cent in one year, and a near doubling from 3,001 cases in 2012.
PHE said that the cases were mostly associated with transmission in gay, bisexual or other men who have sex with men.
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that’s usually caught by having sex with someone who’s infected.
It can usually be treated with a short course of antibiotics, but if left untreated can cause serious long term problems.
Last year officials warned of increasing outbreaks after a historical decline in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the spectre of HIV pandemic encouraged safer sex.
Since then, advances in treatment mean young people with HIV now have near normal life expectancy, while game-changing preventive drugs reduce the chance of transmission by 90 per cent.
But the rise in unprotected sex has left increasing numbers exposed to other sexually transmitted infections, experts warn.
In April NHS officials said dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr should advertise handouts of free condoms to prevent a surge in sexually transmitted infections.
Dr Michael Brady, medical director at sexual health charity the Terrence Higgins Trust, said rates of infections were “unacceptably high” and said cuts to public health budgets were fuelling a “sexual health crisis”.