Syphilis outbreak response

A Northern Territory (NT) syphilis outbreak was declared in 2013.

In January 2017 all areas of the NT were declared part of a multi-jurisdictional outbreak.

A major concern of the outbreak is the risk of congenital syphilis. This occurs when an unborn baby acquires the syphilis infection before birth.

This can lead to:

  • neurological disability
  • physical deformity
  • prematurity
  • foetal/newborn death.

Part of the NT response has been to prevent congenital syphilis occurring in pregnant women by encouraging antenatal care and syphilis testing.

Aboriginal people who resided in the following regions from the dates listed (and their sexual partners) are considered an at-risk population:

  • Alice Springs or Barkly district from July 2013
  • Katherine district from May 2014
  • East Arnhem district from November 2015
  • Darwin urban and rural district from January 2017.

To contact NT Heath’s policy and strategy development unit, email Sexual Health and Blood Borne Viruses on

To contact Clinic 34, the NT Health’s regional health services delivering sexual health services, go to the Northern Territory Government website.

Sexual Health Advisory Committee (SHAC)

SHAC is a committee of key stakeholders from government and non-government organisations to provide advice on sexual health policy and strategy, facilitate collaboration and coordination among its members.

NT Syphilis Outbreak Response Group (NT SORG)

The NT SORG is responsible for coordinating a state-wide response to the increasing notifications of infectious syphilis that are being experienced in the NT.

NT SORG works together with all Government and Non-Governmental primary health care organisations to bring the current infectious syphilis outbreak under control. It constitutes a working group that will discuss and agree upon the best mechanisms to achieve this.

CDC Syphilis Outbreak Response Group (CDC SORG)

CDC SORG is a working group within the Sexual Health and Blood Borne Viruses (SHBBV) unit. It is a public health response to the ongoing outbreak of infectious syphilis among Aboriginal people living largely in remote and rural areas in the NT.

The operators of the syphilis register:

  • assess all positive serology notified to the CDC
  • identify cases in accordance with the public health case definitions
  • provide support, education and information to clinicians
  • follow-up with clinicians on cases and contacts for disease control purposes.

Contact the syphilis register by calling Darwin 08 8922 7818, Alice Springs 08 89251 7552 or email

You can also contact a Sexual Health Coordinator.

Quarterly statistics for notifiable STIs and BBVs in the NT are available from the NT Health digital library website.

The surveillance data is extracted from the Northern Territory Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System (NTNDSS) and HIV and AIDS data from the HIV/AIDS Database.

Regional Sexual Health Coordinators and the Syphilis Enhanced Response Teams coordinate sexual health programs across the NT and provide guidance and expertise to health services and the community.

Read more about Regional Sexual Health Coordinators.

Northern Territory GovernmentGuidelines to assist primary health care clinicians in testing, treating and managing sexual health in the NT. NT Guidelines for the Management of Sexually Transmitted Infections in the Primary Health Care setting
Northern Territory GovernmentNT Health assessment and management of syphilis in pregnancy and the neonatal period.Congenital syphilis guidelines for the Northern Territory
Australian Government's Department of Health and Aged Care National guidance on how to respond to syphilis.Syphilis – CDNA National Guidelines for Public Health Units

The Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) have developed a comprehensive range of resources to support the sexual health workforce.

On demand courses about syphilis are available from the ASHM website:

Remote Area Health Corps training (RAHC) provides a suite of online eLearning modules. Register with RAHC to access the online learning modules from their website:

Young deadly syphilis free has developed resources for clinicians and the community.

Lady peeps is a website for women to learn more about the impact STIs can have on their health and their unborn baby.

Don't fool around with syphilis is a collection of resources about syphilis, including fact sheets, posters and a video.

The Syphilis Story is a online story board that teaches how syphilis can be caught and spread.

TAKEBLAKTION is a website with helpful information for the community about STIs and safe sex.

Respect Me + You, Is Your Syphilis Check Up Due? a campaign produced by Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia and SHINE SA.

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC) Governance Group developed a strategic approach for an enhanced response to the disproportionately high rates of sexually transmissible infections (STI) and bloodborne viruses (BBV) in Aboriginal people.

The objectives of the strategic approach are to:

  • control the syphilis outbreak in northern and central Australia
  • undertake opportunistic control efforts for other STI and BBV
  • consider the long-term sustainable response to STI and BBV issues in Indigenous people.

Go to the Australian Government's Department of Health and Aged Care website to read more about:

Last updated: 14 November 2022

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