A range of unique biological and social forces are driving a substantial syphilis epidemic in China, according to the results of a national surveillance programme published in this week’s issue of The Lancet.
Syphilis infection can have devastating health consequences, including acute cutaneous manifestations such as genital ulcers, chronic severe and debilitating compromise of the cardiovascular and nervous systems, and serious effects on reproductive and neonatal health.
During the first half of the 20th century, China experienced one of the biggest syphilis epidemics in human history. But the introduction of mass screening, free treatment, and the closure of brothels was highly effective, and resulted in the virtual elimination of syphilis and STDs by the 1960s, and for the next 20 years. However, long-term control of syphilis has proved difficult, and recent sporadic reports have provided clues to the magnitude of the spread of syphilis throughout China.