One of the most alarming trends observed in the US is the spike in syphilis cases across the country. The troubling resurgence of the sexually transmitted disease, which was once on the brink of elimination, is now hitting levels not seen for 70 years.
A new report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that syphilis cases are the highest they’ve been since the 1950s.
Congenital syphilis, which is caused by the transmission of bacterial infection from the mother to the fetus, has increased by 80% in the past five years.
Health experts have said that the spike in cases shows there’s a need for improved public outreach and awareness.
WHAT IS SYPHILIS?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacteria – Treponema pallidum. If left untreated, it can cause permanent damage to the organs.
It progresses through stages, starting with primary syphilis, which typically presents as a small, painless sore or ulcer known as a chancre.
It can manifest a wide array of symptoms, mimicking other diseases and making its diagnosis quite challenging.
These chancres can appear on the genitals, mouth, skin, or rectum and usually heal by themselves within 3 to 6 weeks. However, without treatment, the infection advances to secondary syphilis, showing skin rashes and mucous membrane lesions.
If still left untreated, it can enter latent and tertiary stages, potentially causing severe damage to the heart, brain, and other organs.
HOW DOES THE DISEASE SPREAD?
The disease spreads predominantly through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, or oral sex, and can also be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy, leading to congenital syphilis.
While casual contact with objects like toilet seats or doorknobs does not spread syphilis, the increase in cases among all demographics, particularly gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with men (MSM), as well as heterosexual men and women, signals a public health crisis.
PREVENTIVE MEASURES FOR SYPHILIS
One of the primary ways of preventing syphilis is abstaining from sexual activity. But for those who are sexually active, engaging in safer sex practices, such as using condoms correctly every time and being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a tested partner, is highly recommended.
Regular STI testing, especially for pregnant individuals, is essential for early detection and prevention of congenital syphilis.
TREATMENT FOR SYPHILIS
Fortunately, syphilis is curable, particularly when caught in its early stages. Penicillin remains the preferred treatment across all stages of the infection.
A single injection of long-acting Benzathine penicillin G can cure primary, secondary, or early latent stages of syphilis.
For those allergic to penicillin, alternatives like doxycycline or tetracycline are available.
It’s important to note that while treatment can eliminate the infection, it may not reverse any damage already done by the disease.
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