Studies by British researchers have shown that the growing epidemic of syphilis may be caused by the “natural evolution of the disease,” not from unsafe sex or condom fatigue.
However, many researchers in America feel that syphilis STI is a bacterial infection, spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum, usually spread by sexual contact.
This infection can be sexually transmitted through the mucous membranes in the genitals, or it can infect by coming into contact with broken skin anywhere on the body, such as around the mouth and face from practicing oral sex. The disease starts as a painless sore - typically on your genitals, rectum or mouth. Syphilis can also infect an unborn child developing in the womb if the mother is infected.
Alarms are being raised by STD professionals on the spreading of syphilis, while other STDs are decreasing. "Healing Well reports that while syphilis is easily cured with drugs, officials have raised an alarm because the disease appears to make it easier to transmit the virus that causes AIDS."
Surveillance reports show a recent resurgence of syphilis, which is well known for its clinical polymorphism and diagnostic difficulties.
Co-author Nicholas Grassly, a researcher at Imperial College London, says "They [syphilis data] needs to be interpreted carefully, since they do not always reflect changes in behavior or the environment."
Cycles of syphilis
Statistics from 68 American cities show that syphilis rates go up and down on regular cycles. Previously infected people may develop temporary immunity, recovering a few years later when more vulnerable people begin to appear in specific populations. Studies think people develop resistance to syphilis infection after they become ill. At some point, syphilis begins to run out of people to infect.
According to Grassly in Healing Well, "researchers were inspired to do the study by an unusual phenomenon: gonorrhea rates haven't gone up like syphilis rates. This struck the researchers as odd, especially considering that studies have suggested American gay men -- vulnerable to both diseases -- have been abandoning safer sex practices as drug treatments make AIDS less of a fatal disease."
The British researchers chose to study both syphilis and gonorrhea statistics from 68 U.S. cities, while looking at the years 1960 to 1993. This was because those years encompassed both the sexual revolution and the gay liberation movement. Those two eras have always been suspected as possible contributors to syphilis epidemics. There's no immunity to gonorrhea, however, and people can get it repeatedly.
Tip of the Iceberg
Officials are now warning that syphilis could just be "the tip of the iceberg," while HIV and gonorrhea are decreasing in numbers. In the United States the reporting of national surveillance data on Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) does not include all of the most common STDs.
Reporting for gonorrhea and syphilis began in 1941, but chlamydia has only been reported since 1984. AVERT HIV and AIDS reports that the limited data that is reported for genital herpes is available from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). There is no data reporting for genital warts or non-specific urethritis (NSU). Data for these diseases are limited to estimates based on private physicians' office practices, which is provided by the National Disease and Therapeutic Index (NDTI).
Stages of syphilis
** 2 to 3 weeks after coming in contact, the first stage of syphilis begins. The victim develops painless sores (called chancres) at the site of infection.
** These may go unnoticed if they are in the genital region, and will disappear about 4 to 6 weeks later.
** About 33 percent of people infected will not overcome syphilis in the first stage and will experience stage 2.
** This is when syphilis is most contagious, and it gets into the bloodstream.
** There may be side effects like a rash, warty growths on the genitals, fever, fatigue and swollen lymph nodes.
** If this goes untreated, then the third stage of syphilis begins.
** Your heart, nervous system and brain get damaged. If syphilis hits your brain, you may go insane.
Rates of STDs
In 2009 there were very high rates of primary and secondary syphilis (27.5 per 100,000 population), chlamydia (1,106.6 per 100,000) and gonorrhea (432.7 per 100,000 population) reported in Washington D.C.
According to AVERT, during 2008 and 2009, the rate of primary and secondary syphilis increased by 11.6% among non-Hispanic blacks, 6.7% among Asian/Pacific Islanders and 4.3% among American Indians/Alaska Natives. The rate decreased by 4.5% among non-Hispanic whites and 2.2% among Hispanics.
Since the turn of the millennium there has been another steady rise in diagnoses of primary and secondary syphilis, most of which have been among men. In 2009 the rate among males was almost six times higher than females and the rate increased by 4% among males between 2008 and 2009. Most cases of syphilis have occurred among men who have sex with men (MSM).
Health officials are attempting to eliminate syphilis during its down cycles, Grassly said. On a successful side, rates dipped so low during the 1990s that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hoped to virtually kill off the disease by the middle of this decade.
However, rates quickly grew among gay and bisexual men over the past several years, throwing a wrench into the government's plans. Regardless, certain cities in the U.K. have had a fourfold increase in the number of syphilis cases today.