What Makes Syphilis Such a Huge Threat to Health?
If you are asked to find something in common among some great names from Vincent Van Gogh to Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert to Gustave Flaubert, what would you have to say? If it seems difficult to answer, add a few more names to the list — Oscar Wilde, Friedrich Nietzsche, Charles Baudelaire, Wolfgang Mozart and James Joyce. They were all cultural icons of their era and all of them had syphilis. Although it cannot be confirmed if each of them had been diagnosed with the disease, it has been proved by researchers that they all had similar symptoms of the disease. Even Shakespeare has numerous references of the disease in his plays and poetries describing it as the malady of France.
Identification is a challenge
The disease is completely curable but the challenge lies in its detection and diagnosis. Identifying the disease is not always easy as there might not be any symptoms at all in the primary and secondary stages. Even if there are some symptoms, it is difficult to distinguish it from some other diseases that it mimics. This is the reason why in ancient times the disease was even called the great imitator. Having a history of many centuries, the disease was nearly forgotten in the developed countries until there was an outbreak of the disease in the early 1990s in the U.S.
Alarm bells have started ringing and some health clinics are offering free testing for syphilis. People are being encouraged about the uses of Elisa test that can help in detecting syphilis. In addition to blood test, urine test and physical examination is also conducted to diagnose the disease. In advanced stages, detection may require special tests like lumbar puncture that entails collecting fluid from the spine.
The disease prevails
If identification of the disease is a problem, the CDC is faced with even a much bigger problem. People are refusing to accept the fact that the disease still exists. According to figures made available by the CDC, the disease has made a comeback and its rate is rising quite fast. However, the general public is not ready to accept the fact. Creating awareness about the ground realities is the biggest challenge that the CDC is facing. Since the outbreak in the 1990s, the rate of syphilis had come down to 2.1 cases for every 100,000 people, but by 2014 it has bounced back to record an increase of three times. The concern of CDC can be well understood.
The trend is upward
The most concerning fact is that there are no signs of the trend being arrested. On the contrary, the graph is climbing steadily.
• Between 2012 and 2014 the cases of syphilis have trebled in New Orleans.
• 110 cases of syphilis have been reported from Central New York against only 27 cases that had been reported 2 years ago.
• Between 2007 and 2014, there has been a 1000 percent rise in syphilis cases in Oregon.
The fact that the disease can make the fight against HIV even more difficult is a matter of serious concern for the health authorities.
About the author – Tim Weatherman is doing his PhD in social sciences. He has done a recent project on the resurgence of syphilis in the U.S. and some of his experiences have been captured in this article. Besides analyzing the developments from a social angle, he is particularly excited about the free testing and uses of Elisa test for syphilis detection.