This year during STD Awareness Month, The New York State Department of Health AIDS Institute is calling us to raise awareness about syphilis so that we can educate people and stop the spread of syphilis in our communities.
Syphilis is On The Rise
The CDC reports that the increase in syphilis has been significant in the last few years: between 2014 and 2015, syphilis rates increased by 19% in the United States and that 60% of these cases were reported in men who have sex with men (MSM).
The New York Aids Institute reports that New York State experienced an alarming increase between 2010 and 2015 of over 100%, with 70% in MSM. The highest increases occurred in Buffalo, Rochester, and the New York Metropolitan area. Here is a list of the different stages of syphilis provided by the New York AIDS Institute:
- Primary syphilis is marked by a painless open sore that usually develops 10-90 days after exposure. The sore appears at the infection site, typically on the penis, anus, or inside the vagina, rectum or mouth. Sores are highly infectious and last 3-6 weeks. They will go away on their own without treatment. Even after the sores clear up, the person still has syphilis and can infect others. Without treatment, the infection will progress to the secondary stage.
- Secondary syphilis symptoms include a rough reddish-brown rash or spots on the skin. The rash is typically on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet, but can appear on other body parts, like the neck or chest. In addition to rashes, other symptoms (swollen glands, headaches, fevers, patchy hair loss and a general sense of not feeling well) are possible. People with secondary syphilis are still infectious. Without treatment, the infection will progress to the latent stage.
- The latent stage occurs when the infected person’s secondary symptoms go away without treatment. Persons are still infectious for the first year or so, even when they have no symptoms. Latent syphilis can last for many years.
- Late (or tertiary) syphilis typically occurs 10 or more years after an untreated person first became infected. At this stage, the infection can damage organs, including the brain, nervous system and heart. Organ damage will eventually lead to symptoms which include blindness, deafness, paralysis, and decreased mental functions.
Click here to read more about the different stages of syphilis
Who Is At-Risk?
Anyone that is sexually active can get syphilis. That's why it's so important to practice safe sex, regularly get tested and check your body for any sores or breakouts. Syphilis can spread in any instance of direct contact with a sore, which usually appear around the penis, vagina, anus, in the rectum or in and around the mouth. It can be spread through oral, vaginal or anal sex with someone that in infected.
It is also important to note that mothers can pass syphilis to their child during pregnancy, which is called congenital syphilis. In New York State mothers must get tested for syphilis during pre-natal exams. The CDC has helpful guidelines on congenital syphilis and prevention.
There is also a correlation between syphilis and HIV; about half of MSM who have syphilis also have HIV. People who have syphilis are also at a higher right for getting HIV, especially because having an open sore or breakout can make it easier for HIV to spread (CDC).
Remember, if you are HIV negative and on PrEP, you are not protected from getting STDs! So you still need to get tested and use protection when having sex.
Protect yourself. It's important to use protection when having sex, it's also important to have conversations with your sexual partners about their sexual history and whether they get tested regularly for STDs. Knowing your status and getting tested regularly is just as important as knowing someone else's status!
These conversations might feel awkward, but it's your health that's on the line and these conversations are critical to practicing safe sex. You will find a helpful article on Bustle called, "How To Talk To Your Partner About STIs And STDs, Because It's A Conversation Everyone Needs To Have."
Using condoms, dental dams and latex gloves during sex is a critical method of prevention against syphilis. Remember, you can get syphilis during oral sex too, so it's important to use protection when you're giving or receiving oral!
Getting Tested & Treated
It's important to get tested for syphilis regularly. Making STD screening a regular part of your self-care will help to keep you up to date on your status and informed about your sexual health. Here are some resources for getting tested:
- The CDC Getting Tested Resources
- The Syphilis Test NY Campaign
- The CDC National STD Hotline: 1-800-232-4636 (24 hrs. in English and Spanish)
If you do test positive for Syphilis, your doctor will talk with you about the plan for treatment. Treatment for syphilis is most successful if the syphilis is detected in it's early stages. So, it's even more important for you to get tested frequently. Syphilis Test NY explains how treatment will work if you test positive:
Syphilis is easily cured with an injectable form of penicillin (an antibiotic). If a syphilis infection is not treated early and lasts for a year or longer, the person will need more than one injection.
The antibiotic kills the bacteria and prevents further damage. It doesn’t reverse organ damage that has already occurred.
There are other treatments for people who are allergic to penicillin and not pregnant.
Anyone treated for syphilis should not have sex for at least seven days after all sores or rashes have healed, and at least seven days after treatment.
Click here to visit the CDCs page talking about treatment
Apicha CHC is Here to Help
Our providers are well-versed and knowledgeable in sexual health testing and treatment. We provide quality, culturally competent and sensitive community health and will be with you every step of the way.
We know that getting tested can be a nerve-racking experience, but remember that it is always better to know than not know. Getting tested is a crucial part of prevention.
If you’re interested in learning more about the risks or want to come in for an STD screening, schedule your primary care appointment with Apicha CHC today by clicking here!