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Northern Territory overwhelmed by syphilis outbreak

9News.com.au logo 9News.com.au 11/07/2018 Rosanna Kingsun

Rapid test kits for syphilis will be rolled out in three Northern Australian cities from next week, in response to an ongoing outbreak of the sexually transmitted disease. 

The outbreak began in 2011 in Queensland, before spreading to the Northern Territory in 2013. 

Doctor Manoji Gunathilake from the Centre for Disease Control said it was in 2014 that health authorities started to see a high number of cases. 

"As of today, there are more than 800 cases of infectious syphilis, mostly in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population." 

In June, there more than 1100 reported cases in North Queensland, 155 in Western Australia and 31 in South Australia. 

The Federal Government committed $8.8 million in response to the outbreak and selected Aboriginal health organisations in Darwin, Cairns and Townsville to deliver 'Test and Treat' programs. 

In Darwin, Danila Dilba will carry out rapid testing and staff are being trained to use the kits, which produce results within 20 minutes. 

People who test positive to begin the penicillin treatment straight away, while further blood tests are carried out. 

a close up of a persons face: There are more than 800 cases of infectious syphilis in the Northern Territory, mostly in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. Picture: 9NEWS © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd There are more than 800 cases of infectious syphilis in the Northern Territory, mostly in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. Picture: 9NEWS

"It is, most of the time, one dose," said Dr Gunathilake.

"It is quite easy because if you get the treatment very quickly, the symptoms disappear and you will not be infectious to your partner." 

Indigenous people aged 15-29 years are most at risk of the disease, which can cause painless sores, a non-itchy skin rash and flu-like symptoms. 

"If a pregnant mother has syphilis, the babies are at risk of catching congenital syphilis," said Dr Gunathilake. 

"Babies can die while inside the mum's womb.

a close up of text on a white surface: The Federal Government has committed $8.8 million to the program, which is being rolled out in Darwin, Cairns and Townsville. Picture: 9NEWS © Provided by Nine Digital Pty Ltd The Federal Government has committed $8.8 million to the program, which is being rolled out in Darwin, Cairns and Townsville. Picture: 9NEWS

"We are at the moment testing pregnant women who are at-risk at least five times." 

She encouraged people at risk of the disease to ask their doctor to be tested. 

The next phase of the national response may see the rapid test kits rolled out in Katherine, Arnhem Land, the APY Lands and the Kimberley. 

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