Grim Warning as Cases of Medieval Disease Rise

A concerning trend has emerged in England, as cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including syphilis, have seen a significant increase.

This rise in STI cases, while partly attributed to increased testing, strongly suggests a higher transmission rate in the population.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has released figures indicating that the overall diagnoses of new STIs in England in 2022 reached 392,453,. This represents a 23.8% increase compared to the previous year.

The alarming rise in STI cases in England has prompted health officials to issue a warning. The UKHSA reports that people aged 15 to 24 are the most likely to be diagnosed with STIs. This highlights the need for increased awareness and preventative measures among this age group.

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The agency emphasises the importance of condom use and regular testing, as STIs are often easily treated with antibiotics but can lead to serious health issues if left untreated.

Historical Emergence

The precise origin of syphilis remains elusive, with multiple theories proposed by historians and scientists. One prevalent hypothesis is that syphilis was introduced to Europe during the late 15th century after Christopher Columbus’s voyages to the Americas.

This theory suggests that the disease was brought back by sailors and rapidly spread throughout Europe. However, alternative theories argue for the existence of syphilis in Europe prior to Columbus’s journeys, indicating a more complex picture.

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The presence of syphilis in medieval society had profound social and cultural ramifications. The disease was often associated with promiscuity, immorality, and divine punishment, leading to stigmatisation and discrimination against those affected.


The number of diagnosed cases of infectious syphilis is at its highest level since the aftermath of the Second World War. This was thought to be due to large numbers of soldiers travelling across the globe after the conflict.

Of particular concern is the increase in infectious syphilis cases, which reached 8,692 in 2022, the highest annual number since 1948. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. Its symptoms may take weeks or even months to appear after infection, and if left untreated, the infection can persist and lead to severe complications affecting the brain, heart, and nerves.

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Alongside syphilis, other STIs are also on the rise. Dr. Hamish Mohammed, a consultant epidemiologist at the UKHSA, highlights the increase in gonorrhoea diagnoses, particularly among young people.

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The impact of STIs extends beyond inconvenience, as they can significantly affect an individual’s health and that of their sexual partners.

The Trend Continues

The rise in STI cases, including infectious syphilis, across England is a cause for concern. The increasing numbers strongly indicate higher rates of transmission within the population.

Health officials emphasise the need for proactive measures such as condom use, regular testing, and early treatment to prevent the spread of STIs and protect individual and public health. Awareness and education campaigns targeted at high-risk age groups are essential in addressing this growing public health issues.

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The prevalence of syphilis in medieval Europe left an indelible mark on society and subsequent medical advancements. The disease’s impact, both physically and socially, serves as a reminder of the importance of public health measures, education, and effective treatments in combating sexually transmitted infections.


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