The incidence of syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease is increasing among gay and bisexual men, according to a recent federal study. Cases of the STD, once almost eliminated in the United States, have more than doubled among gay and bisexual men since the year 2000, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This is a major public health concern, said CDC researchers because it indicates sexual behavior which could lead to an increase in HIV transmission. And if untreated, syphilis can lead to stroke, heart disease and mental problems, including dementia.
Based on data from the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System reported that as of April 28, 2014, U.S. health officials found that there were 5.3 cases of primary and secondary syphilis per 100,000 people in 2013, compared with 2.1 cases per 100,000 in 2000, wrote Healthday News.
In 2000 which was the year with the fewest cases of syphilis, there were 6,000 cases nationwide. By 2013, that number jumped to more than 16,000 cases of syphilis. Men made up 91 percent of these cases.
The CDC wrote that syphilis has been called ‘the great imitator’ because it has so many possible symptoms, many of which look like symptoms from other diseases.
The painless syphilis sore that appears after first being infected can be confused for an ingrown hair or other seemingly harmless bump. People with syphilis can have very mild to no symptoms at all.
Fighting syphilis is difficult because it is only contagious during the short time that symptoms appear. To reduce the number of STDs, patients are asked about their partners so they too can be tested and treated.
However, many of these men don't know their partners, Dr. Gail Bolan, director of the CDC's Division of STD Prevention told HealthDay News.
In addition, many young doctors don't recognize syphilis so they might not treat it.
"When they see a little sore on the genitals, they think herpes and do not realize that this is a case of syphilis that needs to be treated that day," she added.