Christchurch diseased gays potential baby killers



Olivia Carville reports

Syphilis fuelled by iPhone applications such as Grindr have “come back with a vengeance” among Christchurch’s young homosexual community.

Sexual health physicians say the Government needs to take immediate action before the infection spreads into the heterosexual community, where it has the potential to claim the lives of unborn children.

Goodness.  What sort of a health explosion are we facing here?

Christchurch fielded a fourfold increase in infectious syphilis from 2011 to last year and so far this year 16 people have been treated for syphilis at the city’s Sexual Health Centre – with six of those infectious.

Canterbury District Health Board Sexual Health Centre physician Dr Heather Young said sexual health was “one of the most neglected hospital specialties” in New Zealand.

“If there is no specific action taken, it [syphilis] has the potential for rapid spread and I fear we will be just sitting here watching a train wreck,” Young said.

6 people in two months doesn’t seem to be an explosion.  Or is it?

From the most recently available “Sexually transmitted infections in New Zealand: Annual Surveillance Report 2011“, published in June 2012 we find that Christchurch used to be significantly underrepresented in syphilis cases.


Canterbury District Health Board Sexual Health Centre physician Dr Heather Young said sexual health was “one of the most neglected hospital specialties” in New Zealand.

Syphilis has been on the increase in New Zealand since 2003, with a rise of more than 193 per cent of cases between 2004 and 2006.

Rates peaked in Christchurch last year, Young said.

Not only did the number of cases leap from seven in 2011 to 28 last year, but the average age and way that men were contracting the infection also changed dramatically.

Looks like 4, to 7 to 28 is certainly a major leap when you keep an eye on the national statistics.

The real concern is that it is presenting itself in a new age demographic.  Here is a graph for all of New Zealand, with 39+ representing the top line.


Where syphilis used to be an old gay man’s disease, it is now appearing in much younger gay males.

Most men who caught syphilis in 2011 were in their mid-40s and contracted the disease at sex-on-site venues, such as brothels.

However, last year the median age dropped to 26, with some sufferers as young as 19. It was most commonly caught after the use of social media or iPhone applications such as Grindr, Boy Ahoy and NZ Dating, Young said.

“The highest number of people contracting infectious syphilis is men having sex with men and many are using social media sites or smartphones to search for sexual partners.”

The applications enabled men to meet “anywhere safe and convenient” for casual sex.

Young knew some patients who used Grindr and had had more than 50 sexual partners in three months. Others did not even know the name of their last partner.

Promiscuity and unsafe sex have always had obvious consequences.

One of the big concerns was syphilis’ potential to spread into the heterosexual community where it can be transferred from mother to baby during pregnancy.

Congenital syphilis could result in miscarriages, still births and abnormalities in babies, she said.

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As much at home writing editorials as being the subject of them, Cam has won awards, including the Canon Media Award for his work on the Len Brown/Bevan Chuang story. When he’s not creating the news, he tends to be in it, with protagonists using the courts, media and social media to deliver financial as well as death threats.

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