You may have heard that in Québec, sexually transmissible and blood-born infections (STBBIs) are on the rise. Among these is syphilis, an infection very much present among gay men and men who have sex with men, and which has seen an increase of 60% over the past five years.
Syphilis is caused by a bacteria. It is transmitted by blow jobs or rimming (oral contact), by fucking or getting fucked (anal sex), and even sometimes by rubbing your naked body against a partner or sharing sex toys.
Often, an infected person either has no symptoms, or doesn’t notice any. In an infected person, symptoms emerge a few days to a few months after transmission, and appear as a painless lesion (called a canker) on the genitals, the anus, or in the mouth or throat. About six months after infection, the person might show cold symptoms (fever, headache, fatigue, muscle pain, swollen glands), or have redness or pimples on the palms of their hands, the soles of the feet, or elsewhere on their body. These symptoms will eventually disappear, but that doesn’t mean the infection is cured.
You can contract syphilis more than once. What’s more, syphilis can affect anyone, regardless of age, HIV status, or type of partner. Sooner or later, if left untreated, it can cause serious damage to the brain, heart, and bones.
Syphilis increases your risk of contracting or transmitting HIV by up to five times.
If you are HIV positive, syphilis can be harder to treat, and complications could appear more rapidly. It’s also possible for syphilis to affect the effectiveness of your HIV treatment.
For these reasons, it’s important to get tested regularly: at least once a year, or every three to six months if you have multiple partners. Testing for syphilis is free and confidential. Syphilis is completely treatable and curable with antibiotics. Moreover, treatment is free.
To avoid complications from syphilis, regular testing and treatment are the healthiest choices for you and your partners. If you’ve contracted syphilis, your most recent sexual partners have probably also caught it. To avoid reinfection and to help reduce the incidence of syphilis in the community, inform your partners if you can. Your health care professional can help, or even inform your partners anonymously for you.
Never forget that a condom is one of the best ways to protect yourself from syphilis and other sexually transmissible infections.