Have you noticed some sudden changes on your skin lately? If so, you may want to consider scheduling an appointment with a dermatologist or with your primary care physician to make sure your skin condition isn’t an early warning sign for syphilis. Anyone can get syphilis especially if you’re sexually active and have unprotected sex with multiple partners.
Nearly 20 years ago, the CDC says syphilis was on the verge of extinction but after a recent 2019 report revealed that “30.65 of all cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and P&S syphilis were among non-Hispanic Blacks, even though they made up only approximately 12.5% of the U.S. population.” The findings from the study showed syphilis is making a ferrous comeback and the cases were highest among black people who were also 4.7 times more likely to contract the infection than Whites.
What is syphilis?
Syphilis is a contagious sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum which you can get by having vaginal, anal, or oral sex. If left untreated, syphilis can progress into a series of stages which can impact nearly every organ within your body.
Is it curable?
Although contracting an STI can be devastating, embarrassing, and overwhelming the good news is syphilis can be properly cured with antibiotic medication after receiving a blood test from the doctor to confirm the diagnosis.
Having swollen lymph nodes or a simple skin rash or other problems with your skin can be an early warning sign for syphilis. Syphilis can create sores or lesions known as chancres which can be found around the anus, in the vagina or rectum, and on the external genitals or inside the mouth.
You may even notice as the disease spreads you could develop a fever, a sore throat, hair loss, weight loss, hearing loss, and problems with your reflexes. These signs and symptoms can appear for a few days or last up to several months or years if left untreated.
Syphilis can also be detrimental to a mother and her unborn child’s health. The mother can infect her baby through the bloodstream which could possibly lead to stillbirth death or other pregnancy complications. Doctors say that some people may even miss the early warning signs because they may not experience any pain or symptoms but without proper treatment, you can still spread the sexual infection to others.
If you are diagnosed with syphilis don’t avoid or delay getting treatment. Doing so, can lead to blindness, dementia, neurological problems, meningitis or present stroke-like symptoms.
In 2019, the U.S. health departments reported that most syphilis cases were found among men and attributed its factors to men sleeping with men (MSM). The health department revealed the STD has increased more than 70 percent since 2015 and it also reached a historic low in 2000. When the department delved more into the data, the research showed syphilis had vastly risen among heterosexual couples while the MSM numbers have remained stable for the past two years.
As syphilis cases continued to rise, health department officials began to notice a trend within the black community. The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) reported within the 2018 STD Surveillance Report, the STD infection rates for African Americans was high compared to other populations that it showcased. The report stated “the disparity between Primary & Secondary syphilis rates for blacks and whites was 4.7 times greater for black females compared to white females and 4.8 times greater for black males compared to white males.”
Sandra Elizabeth Ford, MD, MBA, NACCHO’s Board Vice President stated the “data highlighting the overrepresentation of sexually transmitted diseases in the African-American population is disappointing, but not shocking. Ford said,“More emphasis must be placed on those issues that present barriers to prevention and care of not only STDs but other chronic diseases, such as poverty and lack of insurance, as well as racism. Until we take a hard look at these factors, we will continue to see the broad inequities in disease prevalence that we are currently observing.”
Even though health disparities exist within the black community, NACCHO Chief of Programs and Services, Oscar Alleyne, DrPH, MP says local health departments work hard to reduce STD rates and to provide the communities with prevention and treatment messaging to address the rapid growing STD cases.
If you have been diagnosed with syphilis just remember your doctor will order a blood test and determine the syphilis stage of infection by asking you a few questions to make sure the correct antibiotic is prescribed to treat your condition.
If you are in the early stages, your doctor will give you one shot of penicillin. Treatment within the late stages will require three penicillin shots for three consistent weeks. If syphilis has impacted your nervous system then your physician may provide the penicillin through a IV intravenously once a week for a maximum of two weeks. While you are being treated for syphilis, it is recommended that you do not have sex for at least for a week until after all your symptoms have gone away.
After you have been treated and cured of syphilis, make sure you follow-up with any appointments with your doctor just in case another blood test is needed to confirm that the syphilis is no longer in your system.
Most importantly if you have been diagnosed with syphilis please notify your partner(s) so they can get tested and treated to prevent the STD from spreading to others. Also don’t forget to use condoms and/or dental dams to protect yourself from contracting any other sexually transmitted diseases once you start having sex again.