Syphilis: return of the pleasure epidemic

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Rise in syphilis infections in Germany

The number of syphilis diseases in Germany has skyrocketed in the past year. Experts warn of a return of the STD, which has almost been forgotten. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an increase in syphilis diseases in 2011 of 22 percent compared to the previous year.

Viviane Bremer, syphilis expert at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, was "very surprised by the massive increase in syphilis infections, because the numbers have been stable in recent years and even relatively low in 2010." Especially in large cities like Cologne, Munich, Hamburg or Berlin, the RKI recorded a significant increase in syphilis diseases in 2011.

Massive increase in syphilis diseases, especially in large cities
After the number of syphilis diseases stagnated at a relatively low level over the years, a massive increase in new infections can be observed in 2011. The so-called "lust epidemic" reports back. With an increase of 22 percent to 3,698 syphilis infections in 2011, the spread of the STD has reached the level of 1986 again, according to the RKI. In large cities in particular, there was often a significant increase in the number of new infections reported. The RKI syphilis expert explained that the exact reasons for this are not known. Viviane Bremer also refrained from making explanations regarding the gender-specific distribution of the diseases. “It mainly affects men who have sex with men. But to conclude from this that carefree behavior is spreading is speculation, "says Bremer. According to the RKI," 84 percent of all information on the likely route of infection "is due to sexual contact between men.

Syphilis increases the risk of HIV infection Since syphilis also increases the risk of HIV infection, the experts were particularly concerned. The damage to the mucous membrane that occurs in the course of the disease makes it easier for the pathogens to penetrate the organism and thus favors an HIV infection. So far, there has been no increase in HIV infections, but the actual effects "we can only estimate with a delay, in one or two years," explained Viviane Bremer. In this context, Armin Schafberger from Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe emphasized that sexually transmitted diseases are not only of concern for the development of syphilis infections, "but that this disease poses the highest risk with regard to HIV" To avoid syphilis diseases due to the development of HIV infections, Deutsche AIDS-Hilfe will "intensify efforts in recent years", that is, intensify education and call for increased syphilis tests a blood test once or twice a year The results of this test are treated anonymously, even if there is a general obligation to report syphilis.

Signs of a syphilis infection Possible signs of a syphilis infection are reddish ulcers on the genital organs or where the pathogens could penetrate the organism. In the initial stages, these ulcers are usually not accompanied by pain, but release an aqueous liquid that contains the syphilis pathogen, the Treponema pallidum bacterium. If the liquid comes into contact, the disease is transmitted. Around two months after the infection, those affected usually suffer from flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and body aches. The lymph nodes swell and an itchy rash develops. In the long term, the pathogens spread more and more in the body and also affect other organs such as the lungs, esophagus, stomach or liver. In the long term, inflammation of the brain can also occur, which in the worst case lead to paralysis or dementia.

Good treatment options for early diagnosis of syphilis Early diagnosis of syphilis is therefore particularly important, especially since there is a good chance of a cure if therapy is started immediately. The pathogens are extremely sensitive to the use of penicillin. However, if treatment is neglected, "the disease can drag on for decades", although syphilis "is only recognized so late in individual cases that permanent brain damage remains," explained Viviane Bremer. To minimize the risk of syphilis infection, the expert recommends the use of condoms, because the disease is highly contagious when in direct contact. "Condoms are important, but they do not provide 100 percent protection," warned the RKI expert. (fp)

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Significant increase in syphilis infections

Image: Gerd Altmann / (image is a tracing)

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