ssexually transmitted infections rise in the United States. – Especially syphilis, which increased by 26% from 2020 to 2021, according to raw data From the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), published in September. Particularly worrisome is the 24% rise during that time period for congenital syphilis, which affects fetuses in the womb and can It causes birth defects in infants or even kills them.
Fortunately, syphilis is easily treatable and curable. However, affected people do not necessarily know it – and without it being detected and treated, the disease can have serious consequences.
Here’s what you need to know about the rising rates of syphilis and how to protect yourself.
Why is syphilis on the rise?
Syphilis fell to a historic low in 2000 but increased Almost every year In the United States since then. Experts say this is for several reasons, including a lack of investment in public health in the United States and stigma surrounding sex, says Dr. the health. Public health clinics, where people often get tested for STDs, are chronically underfunded in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation, as understaffed public health clinics redirect resources to dealing with the outbreak. Hawke says that given that syphilis has been tested and treated for decades, the fact that it keeps popping up “is a sign that we’re doing something wrong.”
Meanwhile, Hawke says, American health care providers aren’t necessarily trained to deal efficiently with sex or sexual activity, so they often miss crucial screening opportunities. “Most doctors do not take a sexual history [of their patients]and a smaller percentage take in-between sexual dates once people become regular patients,” Hawke says. “They make false assumptions that married people have no other sexual partners—and that their patients are not the ‘type of sick’ they might have.”
Other factors include the rise of online dating, which some experts say enables people to expand their sexual network and has been linked to riskier sexual behavior, and the growth of illegal drugs in the United States, in particular. methamphetamine. Use of these medications tends to be associated with risky sexual behavior. Ina Park, MD, associate professor of community and family medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of strange partnershipsAdventures in the science, history, and surprising secrets of STDs. For example, “most people don’t use condoms for oral sex — and syphilis is one of those STDs that can be easily transmitted through oral sex,” says Park.
Who should get tested for syphilis – and how often?
On September 27, the US Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of medical experts, reconfirm Its guidelines for health care providers to screen all patients at risk for infection.
The task force did not make recommendations about how often people should be tested, noting that ideal screening intervals for people at increased risk “are not well established.” He stated that two groups of high-risk groups – men who have sex with men, as well as people living with HIV – “might benefit” from screening once a year or even more frequently. CDC data shows that MSM are 106 times Men who have sex with women are more likely to contract syphilis. Center for Disease Control recommend MSM should have a syphilis test every three to six months if they have multiple or unknown partners. Other groups at high risk of contracting syphilis include black Americans, who are roughly five times more to be infected by white Americans. Social and economic factors – including lack of access to quality health care – can make people more vulnerable.
Syphilis can be detected by simple test In the clinic (which is usually Free or inexpensive), and can be treated with antibiotics. People can reduce their risk of syphilis through safe sex practices including condom use, testing, and staying in a monogamous relationship with someone who has also tested negative, according to the CDC.
Park says that sexually active people should be screened for syphilis, along with other STIs, about once a year. People should also be tested for syphilis early in pregnancy. Pregnant women at high risk for syphilis — including those who have sex with more than one person, tested positive for another sexually transmitted infection during pregnancy, or who abuse drugs — should be retested in the third trimester and at delivery.
What are the symptoms of syphilis?
Syphilis is notoriously easy to miss and often mistaken for other conditions. In the early stages of infection, people may have sores on their genitals or mouth, but these bumps may be internal and therefore not easily visible. It is not always painful and clears up on its own, so many people ignore it or go unnoticed. After a few weeks or months, people with syphilis usually have sores or a rash on their genitals, mouths, or the soles of their feet. This can resemble symptoms of other conditions, such as psoriasis, herpes, or eczema. During these two stages, syphilis is highly contagious and can be spread through kissing and vaginal, anal, and oral sex.
The rashes and bumps usually clear up, but the infection remains in the person’s body. Without treatment, Park says, syphilis can cause years or even decades of damage, damaging the nervous system, brain and heart. However, serious symptoms can occur At any stage If the infection spreads to the brain, eyes or ears, including vision or hearing damage or even dementia. However, in some cases, people may not realize they have syphilis until the disease has actually caused harm, Park says.
Even when they don’t cause symptoms for years or even decades, “they still multiply and do harm,” she says.
Testing and treatment for syphilis is especially important for pregnant women. Congenital syphilis increases the risk of miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight, or death of the baby soon after birth. Children who survive can also develop symptoms such as deformed bones, meningitis, and brain problems. Babies don’t always have symptoms at birth, but they can appear a few weeks or even years later – so keeping up with testing is crucial.
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