According to the Centers for Disease Control, all STIs (sexually transmitted infections) have dramatically increased in 2023. Syphilis cases (all stages and congenital syphilis) have increased 80% in the past five years. More than 3,700 congenital syphilis cases were reported in 2022, reflecting an alarming 937% increase in the past decade. Most cases of syphilis in the U.S. are among gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with men (MSM).
Why is there a huge increase? The most prevalent reason is that people who engage in sexual relations aren’t using condoms. The increase in substance abuse is linked to risky sexual behavior. Online relationships leading to “hookups” encourage casual sex. There is reduction in sexually transmitted infections ‘(STI) services at the state and local level due to the economy. Global travel brings transmittable diseases from the corners of the earth. Epidemics such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are still infecting.
Worrisome for parents and their LGBT+ children are the facts that many STD’s are asymptomatic at first so you don’t even know you have them. However, all are curable with antibiotics and the sooner you are aware of the signs, the better!
Chlamydia is a common sexually transmitted disease. Like other STDs, it is spread through sex (vaginal, oral or anal). Most people with chlaymydia don’t have symptoms immediately so they may spread the infection without realizing it. It is considered the “silent” infection, but symptoms may appear until several weeks after exposure.
Here are the signs & symptoms of Chlamydia:
- Discharge from the vagina, penis or anus
- Pain in the lower belly
- Pain when urinating.
It is caused by the bacteria Chlamydia trachomatis. Chlaymydia is treated with antibiotics. Tell all partners from the last two months to get tested (even if they don’t have symptoms). Get tested with any new partners. You should get tested at least once a year if you are sexually active.
You can get chlamydia again if your partners aren’t treated with antibiotics or if they have sex with someone else who has chlamydia.
If left untreated, girls can get pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) which can damage the reproductive system and lead to infertility. In boys, swelling in the testicles and tubes at the back of the testicles can occur.
Gonorrhea is caused by infection with the Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacterium. It infects the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, eye, and rectum.
It is very common and more than half of the cases occur among people aged 15-24. It is the second most commonly reported bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the U.S.
Like chlamydia, It is transmitted or acquired through sexual contact with the penis, vagina, mouth or anus. In the United States, the highest reported rates of infection are among sexually active teenagers, young adults, and African Americans.
Signs and Symptoms:
- Many men are asymptomatic. Signs and symptoms of urethral infection in men include a white, yellow or green urethral discharge that usually appears one to fourteen days after infection. Men may have testicular or scrotal pain.
- The initial symptoms and signs in women include dysuria, increased vaginal discharge or vaginal bleeding between periods.
- Symptoms of rectal infection in both men and women may include discharge, anal itching, soreness, bleeding or painful bowel movements. Pharyngeal infection is usually asymptomatic, but may cause a sore throat.
- Gonorrhea can cause inflammation at the back of the testicle that stores and carries sperm.
Who should be Tested:
- Anyone who is sexually active.
- If they have gonorrhea, they should be tested for other STDs.
- CDC recommends yearly gonorrhea screening for all sexually active women younger than 25 years as well as older women.
- It can be diagnosed by testing urine or for endocervical or vaginal specimens using nucleic acid amplifications testing NAAT or by using a gonorrhea culture. It can also be tested by using FDA-cleared rectal and oral diagnostic tests.
Once diagnosed, your healthcare provider may use a single 500 mg intramuscular dose of ceftriaxone (antibiotic) for treatment. Although the medication will stop the infection, it will not mend any permanent damage done by the disease.
Like Chlamydia and Gonorrhea, Syphilis is hard to detect and can come and go over time. It does have stages to the disease and they can overlap or happen simultaneously. Some can mistake syphilis for rashes and pimples. You need an antibiotic to get rid of it.
Here’s the first stage:
- A sore or chancre appears where the syphilis infection entered your body. There’s usually one sore that is firm, round, and painless, but could be open and wet. It can show up on your vulva, vagina, anus, penis, scrotum, but rarely on your lips or mouth.
- Syphilis sores are very contagious although you may notice them because they can live in hard-to-see places on your body.
- After you get the infection, chancres show up anywhere between 3 weeks and 3 months.
- Symptoms in men and women are mostly the same and can last about 3 to 6 weeks.
- Even if the sores are gone, you have to take an antibiotic to cure syphilis and stop it from moving to the secondary stage.
Here’s the Secondary Stage:
- In the secondary stage, your symptoms include rashes on the palms of your hands, soles of your feet or other parts of your body. The rash does not itch. You may feel like you have the flu: slight fever, feeling tired, sore throat, swollen glands, headache, and muscle aches.
- It’s possible to have sores in your mouth, vagina or anus and weight or hair loss.
- The rash can last 2 to 6 weeks at a time and may come and go for up to 2 years.
- If not treated, it can pass into the dangerous late stage.
The Late Stage:
- Your syphilis could be latent (no signs or symptoms) for months or even years.
- If you don’t get rid of syphilis, it can get rid of you: it can cause tumors, blindness and paralysis.
- It can damage your nervous system, brain, and other organs. It can kill you as it did the poet Keats, writer Oscar Wilde, musicians Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Robert Schumann, Franz Schubert and others.
- By receiving the antibiotic, you can still cure the infection and stop future destruction to your body.
- The complications from late stage syphilis can happen 10-20 years after your first get it.
Source: Planned Parenthood
When Your Child Is Gay: What You Need To Know
For more detailed advice, see book, co-authored with a mother of a gay son and a psychiatrist, Jonathan L. Tobkes, M.D.