by Sister Glo Euro N'Wei -
Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, The Abbey of St. Joan
Spirochetes are still dancing their way through our community - syphilis spirochetes, that is.
My good friends over at Public Health tell me that rates of early syphilis are going up again - a big jump in the last year - and 90% of the cases are among Gay and Bi guys. A little more than half of those are among HIV-positive guys, and a little less than half are among HIV-negative guys. I don't want to be alarmist, but I am, like all of us Sisters, concerned for the health and wellness of our community.
It never hurts for all of us to be reminded of the details, right? So, here it goes.&
Syphilis is a bacterial infection with several stages. First comes a painless sore at the contact spot (mouth, cock, ass, vagina), but you may not notice it. You might also experience flu-like symptoms. If not treated, the sore could go away on its own, but the syphilis bacteria don't go away with it. A few months later, you could get a body rash, maybe on your palms or the soles of your feet - this is the second stage. If untreated, the rash may disappear, but again, the bacteria don't. And if it's left untreated, the infection moves on to the third stage and can cause problems such as blindness, deafness, or brain, nerve, or heart problems.
Notice that repeating 'if' statement? Much better to get treated with the right antibiotics and spare yourself the trouble of the second or third stages, right? Right!
You can get tested for syphilis, HIV, and other pesky STDs at Public Health's STD Clinic, Gay City, the baths, or at your doctor's office. If you're out there playing around, get screened at least every three months. And if it turns out you've got syphilis, follow what the doc says about treatment, and make sure to get re-checked in a month or so. Don't forget to talk to the guy(s) you've been having sex with so they can get screened, too. It's a good idea to not have sex until you've finished whatever treatment you're given.
Some guys who got syphilis met their playmates at the baths, some through the internet, and some at other locations, so wherever you're playing, it's important to remember a few things: Talk to each other before you get deep into it. Share your testing history, your results, what turns you on and gets you off, all those things that will make for a much more exciting and pleasurable experience. About one in seven guys who have syphilis got it from oral sex, so if that's what you're into, don't brush or floss right before giving head. And if you've got bleeding gums, cold sores, or other sores in your mouth, don't give head. You've heard this old one before: use condoms, correctly and consistently. And like mom always said, wash your hands!
Most of us report mostly safer sex practices, and HIV rates aren't going up, so we're doing something right! As for those dancing spirochetes, remember, syphilis can cause long-term problems if it isn't treated, but you can get tested for it, and it can be cured with the right treatment. So have fun, play fair, and wash your hands!
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