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SEX DOCTOR: ISSUE OF THE WEEK; THE FACTS ABOUT SYPHILIS.

Byline: Dr Catherine

CASES of the sexually-transmitted infection syphilis are increasing at an alarming rate.

New figures from the health protection agency show that 3,000 cases were detected last year, compared with just 137 in 1996.

So what should we know about this killer infection?

HISTORY

SYPHILIS is a very old infection and has killed millions over the centuries.

But it appeared to have been beaten with the development of antibiotics and improvements in early screening.

The leap in cases over the last 10 years is probably due to people failing to wear condoms.

Another probable cause is an increase in the number of sexual partners people have, particularly from abroad.

HOW DO YOU CATCH IT?

UNFORTUNATELY syphilis is easily caught by unprotected vaginal, anal or oral sex.

But there's no truth in the old wives' tale that you can get it from toilet seats or by sharing towels.

The symptoms can be very mild and easily overlooked. The first sign could be a small painless ulcer in the genital area or elsewhere on the skin which disappears after several weeks.

Other symptoms may include a rash, particularly on the palms, arms and legs, warty-like growths in the genital area and swollen glands.

Unless detected and treated, the serious effects may only appear several years after the initial infection. These include heart problems, difficulty in walking, vision problems and dementia.

TREATMENT

IF detected early, syphilis can be treated effectively with antibiotics. The big problem is when individuals are unaware they have the infection.

SCREENING

A SIMPLE blood test will tell you if you have caught syphilis and whether you need treatment.

If you have had unprotected sex with many partners then it's worth going to your local genitourinary medicine clinic and asking for a full sexual-health screen including a test for syphilis.

For more information go to www.fpa.org.uk
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 19, 2006
Words:312
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