People using social networking sites such as Facebook are to blame for a four-fold increase in syphilis, a director of public health has claimed.
Professor Peter Kelly, who works for NHS Tees, said social networking sites such as Facebook have made casual sex easier to arrange.
He added that syphilis infection has risen sharply among heterosexuals in his area over the last year, claiming the main reason for the increase is unprotected sex.
“There has been a four-fold increase in the number of syphilis cases detected, with more young women being affected,” he said.
“Social networking sites are making it easier for people to meet up for casual sex.
“Unprotected sex, especially with casual partners, is the biggest risk for syphilis. It is important that people avoid high-risk sexual behaviours and practice safe sex to protect themselves from sexually-transmitted infections.”
Syphilis symptoms vary, but the condition is especially dangerous for pregnant women, in whom it can lead to miscarriage or disability.
Nationally, the highest rates of syphilis are seen in women aged 20 to 24 and men aged 25 to 34. There were 3,588 cases diagnosed in 2008.