Minding Your Health – Protecting Yourself Against Syphilis

Over the last two years, 43 percent of all primary and secondary syphilis cases reported in Missouri have been Kansas City residents, according to the Kansas City Health Department, even though Kansas City residents represent just 7.7 percent of Missouri’s total population.
When there is more disease in the community, you have a greater chance of having an infected partner with each sexual encounter. It’s a reminder that we must remain vigilant when it comes to reducing the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, syphilis is called “The Great Pretender” because its symptoms mimic those of other diseases. The Kansas City Health Department reports that it has seen cases that have been misdiagnosed as a rash from an allergic reaction or prescribed topical creams. Syphilis sores, which can take 10 to 90 days to develop from infection, are painless and may look like a small bump.

The CDC reports that a syphilis infection in adults advances in stages. In the primary stage, a small sore may appear at the point of infection. It may heal within three to six weeks even if it is not treated. However, without treatment, the disease will progress.
In the secondary stage, rash-like symptoms may appear on the palms or the hands or feet, or all over the body. Additional symptoms may include fever, sore throat, weight loss, muscle aches and fatigue. Again, symptoms may disappear, but the infection remains. Without treatment, the disease will continue to progress into the latent and late stages.
At any stage, even the beginning stages, syphilis can cause neurologic issues, including paralysis, dementia and blindness.
Any sexual activity, including oral sex, is a risk for getting syphilis. Use a latex condom or dental dam every time you have sex to reduce the risk of infection. Do not assume that you are being tested for syphilis. Ask your health care provider for a syphilis test just to be safe. For detailed information on syphilis and other STDs, visit www.cdc.gov/std/healthcomm/fact_sheets.htm.
STD testing is available at these agencies:
Kansas City Health Department
KC CARE Clinic
Planned Parenthood
(multiple locations in the Kansas City area)
Remember, syphilis can be tricky to detect, so be sure to ask your health-care provider to test for it. If you are sexually active, get tested at least every 90 days and take the necessary precautions to limit your exposure.
Kyle Danner is an organizer for the LGBT-Affirmative Therapists Guild of Greater Kansas City. He received a master’s degree in counseling and guidance from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

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