HEALTH experts in the region are urging people to practise safe sex after a state health department warning a sexually transmitted infection is on the rise.
Syphilis cases are on the rise among men and women across the state, prompting an alert from Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton this week.
Dr Sutton reports there has been a notable rise in female cases of the infection with 163 cases notified to the department last year, representing about 12 per cent of cases, up more than 60 per cent the past two years.
Victoria reached a record high 1,372 infectious syphilis cases notified, up more than 240 cases from 2016 for infections of less than two years.
There have been three cases of infectious syphilis from the Grampians region notified to the department already this year, compared to one last year, and five cases of late (tertiary stage) syphilis including two in the past week.
Dr Sutton said the increase of syphilis in women of reproductive age was a particular public health concern because during pregnancy, this could cause congenital syphilis and result in serious birth defects and stillbirth.
Two foetal deaths in the past two years have also sparked concern from the health department with four cases of congenital syphilis emerging in Victoria for the first time since 2004.
A Ballarat Community Health spokesperson said prevention and practising safe sex was important - using a condom and having regular sexual health checks.
BCH did not make comment as to why syphilis could be on the rise in the community.
BCH and headspace Ballarat offer sexual health officers in free sessions and made clear this was a welcoming, non-judgmental environment.
Syphilis cases remain most common among men with male sexual partners.
The bacterial infection is most commonly spread via sexual contact and starts as a painless sore. It can also be spread via skin-to-skin contact where the rash is present.
The health department advises condoms greatly reduce transmission risk and recommends periodic screening for all high-risk groups including: people with multiple sexual partners; travellers returning from countries where syphilis is prevalent; people who inject drugs; men with male sexual partners; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; sex workers; and people with other STIs.