"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

As the variety of syphilis cases within the US rises, people on the epicenter are in turmoil

September 21, 2023 – It was only a routine check-up – or so she thought. But this time Marnina Miller’s lover got here along. The couple went to an STD clinic in Houston, where Miller worked, to get tested for syphilis and HIV.

Because her immune system is already compromised attributable to an HIV diagnosis 9 years ago, it's crucial for Miller to make sure she is freed from other diseases. She tested negative for syphilis, while her partner tested positive for latent syphilis (stage 3).

Syphilis has been on the rise within the United States for greater than 2 a long time. From 2017 to 2021, the variety of cases increased by 75% (to 176,713), in response to the CDC. Houston – the fourth largest city within the United States – appears to be the epicenter. Between 2019 and 2022, there was a 128% increase in syphilis cases there, especially amongst women and other people of color. after to the Houston Health Department. This summer, the pharmaceutical company Pfizer reported a widespread shortage of the antibiotic penicillin, which is used to treat early and latent syphilis.

“I was immediately scared,” Miller said. “I was nervous about what this meant for me because we had kissed before. And even though I live openly with HIV, there is little education about syphilis and how you can contract it.”

The Houston Health Department is warning Houstonians to take this public health crisis seriously by practicing secure sex and getting tested in the event that they are sexually lively. In Houston and Harris County, Texas, the variety of cases of congenital syphilis – when a pregnant mother transmits the disease to her baby – has also increased ninefold. To help prevent the spread, residents can now free Testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) at health clinics in Houston.

“It is crucial for pregnant women to receive prenatal care and syphilis testing to protect themselves from an infection that could lead to the death of their babies,” said Marlene McNeese Ward, deputy director of the Houston Health Department's Office of HIV/STI and Viral Hepatitis Prevention, said a pregnant woman must be tested for syphilis 3 times during her pregnancy.

There are 4 stages of syphilis: primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. (See symptoms of every stage.) Here.) Oral, anal and vaginal sex are a few of the ways the disease will be transmitted. Some individuals who turn into infected with syphilis never have symptoms and might suffer from the disease for years without knowing it.

Penicillin can cure each syphilis and congenital syphilis. The antibiotic cannot reverse the organ damage attributable to the infection, especially if the disease was already well advanced before treatment.

Teriya Richmond, MD, explained what a median testing day looks like. When you arrive on the testing site, you'll be checked in and told what forms of STDs you may be tested for. The CDC recommends that you just get tested for HIV, syphilis, hepatitis C, gonorrhea and chlamydia. Syphilis tests are done using blood samples. Tests for other diseases include oral or anal swabs and urine samples, says Richmond, a board-certified family medicine physician who makes a speciality of women's health.

Sergino Nicolas, MD, is creating TikTok videos and Instagram Reels to boost awareness of the outbreak. The Pittsburgh-based emergency medicine physician said some people of their 20s and 30s often have a “nonchalant” attitude toward sexually transmitted diseases. Ignorance of the results of syphilis may encourage this attitude. “There is a danger in thinking like, 'I can just get treatment,' I think, because when you have these infections, [irreversible] Complications can arise,” he said.

There is also a preconceived notion in this age group that oral sex is a safer alternative to vaginal or anal sex, Nicolas said. “Any time you might have infected secretions or come into contact with mucous membranes, including the vaginal mucosa, the infection can spread.”

The outbreak is particularly affecting dark-skinned women. Syphilis has a wide range of signs and symptoms, and that could play a big role, Nicolas said. Another reason could be a lack of education about the dangers of unprotected sex, especially when having multiple sexual partners, as this increases the rate of yeast infections and sexually transmitted diseases, he said.

Another possible factor: Sexually explicit music and entertainment can also cloud judgment about whether to engage in sexual activity, Nicolas says. Younger generations in particular can be affected. “In recent months, recent artists have emerged who've really championed 'female empowerment' in some ways,” he says. “At the identical time, they may also push a narrative that's more about promiscuity, which could have certain psychological effects” that could lead to unprotected sex.

Public health activists in Houston are raising awareness about the importance of getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases. Kevin Anderson is the founder of the TRUTH Project, a Houston-based nonprofit that educates and mobilizes LGBTQ communities of color through social arts that promote sexual, mental, and physical health.

In celebration of its 10th anniversary, the TRUTH Project is promoting syphilis education and awareness in creative ways. The organization's recent events included an open mic night called “Heart and Soul,” where attendees received free STD testing on-site. It also hosted a sex-positive night to educate attendees about STDs and safer sex practices. Self-love, self-care and body confidence are one of the group's key messages. “If something feels or looks different, love yourself enough to proactively follow up and discover what's occurring—because avoidance results in outbreaks,” Anderson said.

Maybe you're worried you might have sexually transmitted diseases. Or maybe you're about to get tested for the first time. Remember that you're in charge of your sexual health and in control of your body, Miller said. “Don't be afraid. Take care of yourself.”