WA Syphilis outbreak response

This page provides information regarding the infectious syphilis outbreaks affecting people living in the affected regions of Western Australia. The WA SORG is responsible for coordinating a statewide response to the increasing notifications of infectious syphilis that are being experienced in WA.

An infectious syphilis outbreak was identified in the Kimberley region in mid-2014 with related clusters identified in mid-2018 in the Pilbara region and the Goldfields in mid-2019. In mid-2020 the Chief Health Officer authorised a state-wide public health response to infectious syphilis in identified at-risk populations after increased cases emerged in the Perth metropolitan area and South West region. Of concern is the increasing occurrence of congenital syphilis.

At-risk populations in the following outbreak regions include:

  • Kimberley – Aboriginal people
  • Pilbara - Aboriginal people
  • Goldfields - Aboriginal people
  • South West – young Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal heterosexual people, people who use methamphetamine and/ or inject drugs, people who have sex with men who have sex with men (MSM)
  • Metropolitan area – young Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, people experiencing homelessness, people who use methamphetamine and/ or inject drugs, culturally and linguistically diverse people, people who have sex with MSM

NOTE: There is a high rate of syphilis transmission among MSM across WA. Strategies to control infectious syphilis in this population pre-date, and are outside the scope of, the WA SORG.

National response

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) Governance Group has developed a National strategic approach for an enhanced response to the disproportionately high rates of STI and BBV in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Supporting the Strategic Approach is an Action Plan, which is the Enhanced response to addressing STI (and BBV) in Indigenous populations.

These documents, and additional information on the national response, are available at Australian Government Department of Health Infectious Syphilis Outbreak (external site).

In April 2015, a Multijurisdictional Syphilis Outbreak Working Group (MJSO) of the Communicable Diseases Network Australia (CDNA) (external site) was formed in response to this ongoing outbreak among young Aboriginal people living in remote areas of northern Australia.

The MJSO, with representatives from affected jurisdictions, sexual health physicians, experts in Aboriginal sexual health and the Australian Government Department of Health, advised governments to coordinate the public health response for the purpose of outbreak control and prevention of congenital syphilis.

WA Syphilis Outbreak Response Group (WA SORG)

The Western Australian Syphilis Outbreak Response Group (WA SORG) was formed in response to the syphilis outbreak among Aboriginal people in outbreak affected regions of WA. The WA SORG was formed and the first meeting held in August 2018.

The long term aim of the WA SORG is to control the outbreak of syphilis among communities in WA using partnership strategies that, wherever possible, are applicable to the sustainable control measures for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and promotion of sexual health in WA communities.

Working groups

Five working groups sit under the WA SORG and are responsible for progressing key actions related to the priority areas.

  • Prevention, education and community engagement
  • Workforce development
  • Testing, treatment and contact tracing
  • Surveillance and reporting
  • Antenatal and postnatal care
Sexual health regional coordinators

Regional sexual health coordinator positions are in place in the Goldfields, Kimberley and Pilbara regions. The role of the regional positions are to provide support to sexual health programs, guidance and expertise to health professionals working in the field. Specific tasks for the role include:

  • organising and/or facilitating orientation to the sexual health program for new staff working in the region
  • designing and implementing sexual health promotion strategies
  • Coordinating and/or providing education on sexual health and sexually transmissible infections to health service providers

Contact details for regional coordinators

Goldfields Public Health Unit
Tel: (08) 9080 8200
Email: WACHSGoldfieldsCommunicableDiseaseControl@health.wa.gov.au

Great Southern Public Health Unit
Tel: (08) 9842 7500
Email: WACHSGreatSouthernCommunicableDiseaseControl@health.wa.gov.au

Kimberley Public Health Unit
Tel: (08) 9194 1630
Email: WACHSKimberleyCommunicableDiseaseControl@health.wa.gov.au

Metropolitan Communicable Disease Control
Tel: (08) 9222 8599
Email: NM.MCDCTeam@health.wa.gov.com

Midwest Public Health Unit
Tel: (08) 9956 1980
Email: WACHSMidwestCommunicableDiseaseControl@health.wa.gov.au

Pilbara Public Health Unit
Tel: (08) 9174 1660
Email: WACHSPilbaraCommunicableDiseaseControl@health.wa.gov.au

South West Public Health Unit
Tel: (08) 9781 2359
Email: WACHSSouthwestCommunicableDiseaseControl@health.wa.gov.au

Wheatbelt Public Health Unit
Tel: (08) 9690 1720
Email: WACHSWheatbeltCommunicableDiseaseControl@health.wa.gov.au

Syphilis videoconference series

*Further to discussion during the session it should be noted that on slide 27, the patient needs benzathine penicillin weekly for 3 weeks because they have syphilis of unknown duration (no symptoms, positive syphilis serology and no previous syphilis test result). Therefore, it’s important to be cautious and treat the patient as though they have had syphilis for >2years.

Training / events calendar

A range of training and information sessions have been planned to support community health workers in sexual health. See below for information.

Name Location Date Start / Finish time How to register
STI & BBV Quarterly Forum
Theatrette, 189 Royal Street, East Perth 6004
(videoconferencing is available) 
25 August 2021
9.00am - 11.30am
More information
The Birds and the BBVs
Puntukurnu Aboriginal Medical Service, 65 Mindarra Drive, Newman WA 6753
2-3 September 2021
8.45am - 4.00pm
Register (external site) 
The Birds and the BBVs To be confirmed 12-13 October 2021 8.45am - 4.00pm
Register (external site)
Nuts and Bolts of Sexual Health Sexual Health Quarters, 70 Roe Street, Northbridge WA 6003 13-15 October 2021 9.00am - 4.30pm Register (external site)
Sexual Health Teams Workshop Double Tree Hilton, 100 James Street, Perth WA 6000  28-29 October 2021 8.30am - 4.00pm   Register 
STARS Sexual Health Quarters, 70 Roe Street, Northbridge WA 6003 16-17 November 2021 9.00am - 4.30pm
Register (external site)
STI & BBV Quarterly Forum Theatrette, 189 Royal Street, East Perth 6004
(videoconferencing is available) 
24 November 2021 9.00am - 11.30am
More information

SHQ offer a variety of non-syphilis specific sexual health training for a variety of health workers. If this is of interest, you can find their training calendar at on the website (external site).

ASHM also provide a range of trainings which can be accessed on their website (external site).

Relevant documents

More information

Communicable Disease Control Directorate
Address: Level 3A, 189 Royal Street, East Perth 6004 WA
Phone: (08) 9222 2131
cdc@health.wa.gov.au

Last reviewed: 27-07-2021
Produced by

Sexual Health and Blood-borne Virus Program