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Syphilis cases increase

In the first quarter of 2005, the Kansas City, Mo., Health Department has seen a 62 percent increase in early syphilis cases with men who have sex with men in Kansas City, Mo., compared to this time last year.

“St. Louis and Springfield have also seen increases in syphilis rates,” said Ron Griffin, division manager for Communicable Disease Prevention and Public Health Preparedness. “A blood test can determine if you have syphilis and it is curable if caught early.”

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. It has been often called the “great imitator” because so many of the signs and symptoms are indistinguishable from those of other diseases.

It is important that people whose sexual behaviors put them at higher risk for STDs be screened for syphilis. Risks include, but are not limited to, multiple sex partners, new sex partners, trading sex for money and/or drugs, anonymous sex, or having a sex partner who engages in high risk behaviors.

The primary stage of syphilis is usually marked by a single sore (called a chancre), but there may be multiple sores. The chancre is usually firm, round, small and painless. The chancre lasts about three to six weeks and heals without treatment. However, if adequate treatment is not administered, the infection progresses to the second stage.

Skin rashes and mucous membrane lesions characterize the secondary stage. The characteristic rash of secondary syphilis may appear as rough, red, or reddish brown spots on the palms of the hands and the bottoms of the feet. However, sometimes there is a rash on other parts of the body, resembling rashes caused by other diseases.

In addition to rashes, symptoms of secondary syphilis may include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches and fatigue.

The signs and symptoms of secondary syphilis will resolve with or without treatment, but without treatment, the infection will progress to the latent and late stages of the disease.

Without treatment, the infected person will continue to have syphilis even though there are no signs or symptoms. In the late stages of syphilis (over one year in duration) the disease may damage the internal organs, including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones and joints. Signs and symptoms of the late stage of syphilis include difficulty coordinating muscle movements, paralysis, numbness, gradual blindness, and dementia. This damage may be serious enough to cause death.

For free, confidential syphilis testing, call the Health Department, (816) 513-6152.

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