Over half of people in the U.S. will get a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) during their lifetime, yet most adults don’t know how common STIs are — or that they’re on the rise. MFP’s STI Series aims to bridge that knowledge gap. Armed with the facts, we can bust stigma and stay healthy!
Folks, we need to talk about syphilis.
Even before Covid-19, syphilis rates were on the rise nationally and in Maine. Now, despite a decline during the lockdown phase of the pandemic, syphilis is among the Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) rebounding nationwide, according to recent reports.
This isn’t the type of comeback we like to see.
Syphilis is a preventable and curable bacterial infection that spreads easily if you have unprotected sex (oral, vaginal or anal) or genital contact with someone who has it. Syphilis also can spread through sharing needles or injecting equipment. Most cases of syphilis in the U.S. are among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM), and syphilis has been increasing among MSM for more than a decade. However, rates of syphilis among women, as well as congenital syphilis, are also on the rise.
If left untreated, syphilis can cause serious health problems including damage to the brain, eyes, heart, liver, and other internal organs or complications for pregnant people. Syphilis also makes someone more likely to be infected or to infect others with HIV.
The CDC reported last year that between 2017-2018:
- The number of primary and secondary syphilis cases – the most infectious stages of syphilis – increased 14 percent to more than 35,000 cases, the highest number reported since 1991.
- Among newborns, syphilis cases increased 40 percent to more than 1,300 cases.
It’s important to catch syphilis early on, which is why we recommend talking openly with your compassionate, non-judgmental Maine Family Planning health care provider about your partners, practices, and prevention methods. They can help you figure out whether and how often you should get tested for syphilis.
Talk. Test. Treat.
Like many STIs, syphilis often has no noticeable symptoms. Some people may notice a small, painless sore in places they don’t look very often. As the infection moves into its next stage, people may see a rash on the body, especially on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet.
Some people call syphilis “The Great Imitator,” as its symptoms can look like many other diseases. Luckily, the experts at MFP are hard to fool. 😊
If you test positive for syphilis, don’t freak out! Your MFP provider can prescribe effective treatment (one shot of penicillin is all most people need) and help you safely (and anonymously) let current and previous partners know. You and any sex partners that you may have exposed to the infection will need to be treated. And don’t forget to take care of yourself during this time, too.
Antibiotics help clear the infection, but they don’t make you immune. Having syphilis once does not change your chances of getting it again, so be sure to continue talking with your partners and health provider, getting tested for syphilis and other STIs, and using latex condoms.
If any of this information is new to you, please share it with a friend or loved one! Increased knowledge empowers us to live safe and healthy lives, on our own terms.