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The sharp rise in syphilis cases in Teesside has been partially attributed to social networking sites which incautious locals are trawling in search of casual sex.

According to the local Evening Gazette, the number of reported cases jumped to 30 last year, up from less than 10 in 2008. Professor Peter Kelly, executive director of public health for NHS Tees, said that "reports from doctors and nurses diagnosing and treating patients suggest some sufferers are using social networking sites to find and arrange meetings with new lovers".

He added: “Unprotected sex, especially with casual partners, is the biggest risk for syphilis. Social networking sites are making it easier for people to meet up for casual sex. It is important that people avoid high risk sexual behaviours and practise safe sex to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections."

To further finger Facebook* as the principal culprit in the syphilis surge, the Daily Telegraph claims research has shown that "young people in Sunderland, Durham and Teesside were 25 per cent more likely to log onto social networking sites than those in the rest of Britain".

The Gazette explains that syphilis "in many patients causes septic sores to open up on the genitals in the early stages" which can "then develop to cause facial and bodily deformities, heart and lung disease and damage to the nervous system".

Kelly urged those at high risk to "contact their GP or their local sexual health clinic for syphilis testing". ®

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*The Telegraph's headline reads "Facebook 'linked to rise in syphilis'", but we thought we could do better. Coming soon: "Bubonic plague sweeps through Facebook".

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