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The venereal disease syphilis is increasing in Germany. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), infections reported have increased by 4.2 percent since 2016.
7,500 cases of syphilis
According to the RKI, around 7,500 syphilis infections were reported in 2017, 4.2% more than in 2016. The highest rates are in Hamburg and Berlin.
Gay men particularly at risk
Syphilis cases have been rising steadily since 2010 after falling in the 1980s. Homosexual men become infected extremely often.
Why is syphilis spreading again?
In the 1980s, the syphilis rate dropped as a result of safe sex as a result of the fear of AIDS / HIV. Presumably, many men do not use condoms more often during sex than in the early days of AIDS, and this, according to surveys, also with changing partners.
Is syphilis recognized more often?
However, the increase in syphilis cases can also play into the fact that these are recognized more frequently than before. HIV-infected people today regularly undergo disease screening, and syphilis, in particular, has often been diagnosed.
Syphilis rates are increasing not only in Germany, but internationally. According to the RKI, prevention, diagnosis and therapy must therefore be expanded further.
How does syphilis begin?
Syphilis often remains undetected because it often shows no symptoms in the first phases, and the symptoms that sometimes appear are non-specific: pain-free ulcers occur in some people weeks after the infection. Without treatment, fever, tiredness, pain in the muscles or head usually follow, and the lymph nodes swell.
The terror comes late
The serious consequences only come years after the infection: damage to the brain or broken blood vessels.
How is syphilis transmitted?
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease. Infection with the Treponema pallidum bacterium occurs through sexual intercourse - vaginal, anal or oral. Infection via blood contact or from pregnant women to the fetus is possible, but rare.
What happens without treatment?
Without treatment, the disease sometimes heals itself, or it persists, sometimes causing serious organ damage decades after infection, even destroying the brain and spinal cord as neurosyphilis. The result is paralysis and irreversible mental disorders.
How does the doctor recognize syphilis?
If a person with the early symptoms visits a doctor, which is unfortunately often not the case, the doctor suspects syphilis based on the ulcers in the genital area and / or the swollen neighboring lymph nodes. Then he detects the pathogen with blood tests.
Syphilis is a notifiable disease. If a laboratory detects a case of syphilis, it must report it to the RKI - without giving the patient's name.
Syphilis can be cured with penicillin, and with allergies also with other antibiotics.
Responsibility of those affected
If you are infected with syphilis, you must tell your sexual partner about it. These should now be checked for infection themselves. If the infection was long ago, you must also inform past partners.
A global illness
Syphilis is common worldwide with around 12 million new cases every year. Although the number of sufferers has decreased since using penicilin, it has been rising again since the 1990s. 90% of those affected live in developing countries.
Focus on big cities
In western countries, the big cities are hotspots for contracting syphilis. 84% of those affected become infected through homosexual contacts, the proportion of men among those infected has increased from 60% since the 1950s to over 85% today.
Return of syphilis disease
The RKI registered a new maximum number of infections for 2017, but already in 2014 there was a provisional maximum with 5722 new diagnoses in Germany at that time - in 2009 these were 2742. Syphilis is again relatively common in Central Europe.
In Germany, like other industrialized countries, syphilis often occurs as a co-infection in people with HIV.
HIV and syphilis
If you suffer from the immune disease HIV, syphilis usually runs much faster and often breaks out again when you take medication for it. The contagion pathways in HIV and syphilis are identical, and sexually transmitted diseases should always be examined for co-infections.
The renewed increase in syphilis infections is believed to be due to the less stringent use of condoms than in the 1980s since HIV became publicly perplexed. Those who use condoms during sexual intercourse greatly reduce the risk of contracting syphilis. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)