Outbreak Training Website

Responses to the Syphilis Outbreak

Responses to the syphilis outbreak have recognised the need for a multi-faceted approach and to focus not just on syphilis but more broadly, to address the high rates of other STIs and blood-borne viruses (BBVs) among populations affected. Responses have included the establishment of new, and strengthening of existing, strategies. Examples of jurisdictional responses are provided in more detail at the end of this page. 

The Multijurisdictional Syphilis Outbreak Working Group (MJSO)

The Multijurisdictional Syphilis Outbreak Working Group (MJSO) of the Communicable Diseases Network of Australia (CDNA) was established in April 2015 in response to the ongoing outbreak of syphilis among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote and rural areas of Northern Australia. MJSO includes representatives from the Australian Government, outbreak jurisdictions, and expert advisory members. MJSO’s goals are to:

  1. Provide technical support and advice to both the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) Syphilis Enhanced Response Governance Group (the Governance Group) and the CDNA in relation to jurisdictional syphilis surveillance data.
  2. Support relevant elements of the implementation of the Action Plan as directed by the Governance Group.

Current outbreak data is updated monthly and is available in the surveillance reports.

Enhanced response, action plan (including priority areas) and governance

A National Strategic Approach and accompanying Action Plan were developed by the AHPPC Syphilis Enhanced Response Governance Group and endorsed by the Australian Health Ministers’ Advisory Council (AHMAC) in December 2017.

The Action Plan has short and longer term goals which is aligned with the Fifth National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Blood Borne Viruses and Sexually Transmitted Infections Strategy 2018-2022. The following four priority areas are identified in the Action Plan:

  • Testing and treatment: Increasing the number of people tested, frequency of testing, the subsequent treatment of those infected and contact tracing of known sexual contacts.
  • Surveillance and reporting: Enhancing the quality of reporting and improving access to laboratory testing data and development of key reporting indicators for outbreak monitoring.
  • Education and awareness: Access to consistent and appropriate resources for at-risk communities with a particular emphasis on young people and pregnant females and the health workforce servicing these areas
  • Antenatal care: Ensuring consistent recommendations for repeat testing during pregnancy among females at high risk of infection and improving the management of perinatal syphilis.

In addition to the four priority areas, the Action Plan recognises the importance of monitoring the progress of key actions by the Governance Group as well as ongoing monitoring and evaluation through the five National BBV and STI strategies. Monitoring and evaluation plans for the new 2018 to 2022 strategies will be developed in consultation with the state and territory governments and partners.

National Syphilis Guidelines

The Syphilis Series of National Guidelines (SoNG), developed by CDNA and updated in August 2018, provides nationally consistent guidelines for public health units in responding to syphilis.

In addition, the Syphilis Chapter of the Pregnancy Care Guidelines updated in 2019, includes strengthened recommendations for testing females during pregnancy.

The national treatment guidelines for Syphilis are available on the Australian STI Management Guidelines for Primary Care. 

The jurisdictions affected by the outbreak have state-wide guidelines including: 

Examples of jurisdictional responses