Epidemiology and Infection

A syphilis outbreak in remote Australia: epidemiology and strategies for control 1

D. B. MAK a1a2a3c1, G. H. JOHNSON a1 and A. J. PLANT a2
a1 Department of Health Western Australia (formerly Kimberley Public Health Unit), Derby, WA, Australia
a2 Centre for International Health, Curtin University of Technology, WA, Australia
a3 School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia, Nedlands, WA, Australia

Article author query
mak db   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
johnson gh   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 
plant aj   [PubMed][Google Scholar] 


This paper describes the epidemiology of a syphilis outbreak in remote Australia, and explores contributing factors and control strategies. Between 1 August 2000 and 31 January 2002, 74 cases of early syphilis (42 female, 32 male) were identified in 73 Kimberley residents. Syphilis rates in age groups 10–19 and 20–29 years were 583 and 439 per 100000 person years respectively. Factors contributing to the outbreak included incompleteness of sexually transmitted infection (STI) clinical management, untimely contact tracing, staffing and management issues, and poor community knowledge about STIs. Outbreak control strategies addressed factors that could be influenced by changes in health service delivery, and focused on providing education and support to health staff, and efforts to increase community knowledge about sexual health. Although some improvements have occurred, the outbreak is still continuing. Until open and honest discussion and a collaborative approach is taken toward STI problems affecting Indigenous Australians, outbreaks such as this will continue to occur.

(Accepted June 24 2004)

c1 Dr D. Mak, 29 Cooper St, Nedlands, WA 6009, Australia. (Email: makho@bigpond.com)


1 The views expressed are those of the authors and may not reflect the views of the institutions which they were employed by, or affiliated with, during the writing of this paper.