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Category: Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Rates of syphilis infection are rising at alarming speeds, and all sexually active young people should take steps to protect themselves from infection, which may include seeking STD testing for themselves and their partners. However, men who have sex with men may want to be extra cautious, as infection rates are particularly high among this group.
How serious is the problem?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 64 percent of new primary and secondary syphilis infections in 2006 were diagnosed in men who have sex with men, making this the primary group affected by the rising tide of syphilis.
Overall, new syphilis cases increased by nearly 12 percent between 2005 and 2006. All ethnic, age and lifestyle groups were affected by this increase. However, men who have sex with men were clearly hit the hardest.
What are the risks?
Syphilis infections may progress for several years without presenting any symptoms. This makes identifying and treating carriers difficult. It also becomes challenging to slow the spread of the infection. Despite not presenting many symptoms, syphilis can be a major threat to health.
When the disease progresses to later stages, it produces sores on the genitals. These open wounds make it easier for other viral infections, such as HIV to enter the body. The CDC reports that anywhere from 20 to 70 percent of men who have sex with men who were diagnosed with syphilis in recent outbreaks also had HIV. Individuals with syphilis are between two and five times more likely to also be infected with HIV.
How to protect yourself
The most effective way to avoid becoming infected with syphilis to remain abstinent or to only have sex with someone in the context of a committed, long-term relationship. Furthermore, avoiding excessive alcohol and drug use may limit infection risk, as these pastimes are generally associated with risky sexual behavior.
However, even those who do engage in sexual activities with multiple partners can protect themselves in other ways. A person who is infected with syphilis will often exhibit sores or chancres around their genitals. Sexual contact with anyone who has these symptoms should be avoided. Finally, wearing a condom may be somewhat effective at preventing infections.
While men who have sex with men may face a greater risk of becoming infected with syphilis, there are many things they can do to avoid the disease.
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