Syphilis

29 03 2010

Ok, ok, I’m starting to become obsessed! Just wanted to use the current discussions (/fiasco)on t’internet as a platform for telling you about syphilis.

As a med student, syphilis is one of those ‘go to’ conditions. It literally seems to cause everything! It is refered to amongst doctors as one of the “Great imitators” – a disease that can trick health professionals into thinking they are something else. But what actually is it?

Well, it’s part of a groovy subgroup of bacteria [edit:just for dom] called spirocaetes, that is mostly passed on through sexual contact. Wikipedia amusingly notes  that syphilis “had been called the “French disease” in Italy and Germany, and the “Italian disease” in France. In addition, the Dutch called it the “Spanish disease”, the Russians called it the “Polish disease”, the Turks called it the “Christian disease” or “Frank disease” (frengi) and the Tahitians called it the “British disease”.” Doesn’t that make you proud, fellow Brits?!

So what does it do to you?

Well the first stage (primary syphilis) is probably what you’d think of as being syphilis. Painless lesions develop, which ulcerate to form ‘syphilitic chancres’, which normally heal after a few weeks. They are highly infectious sores that normally appear around genitals.

Secondary symptoms, such as a fever, skin rash and sore throat, then develop, despite the body already having mounted an immune response to the disease! 

Tertiary syphilis. At this stage, it can cause serious damage to the body. It affects many tissues of the body, such as the bone, skin and mucosal surfaces, and can go on to affect important body systems like nerves and the heart.

But for such a potentially destructive disease, treatment couldn’t be more straight forward. Penicillin. An antibiotic we’ve known about for the best part of 100 years.

Syphilis is still in relatively small numbers in the UK, although the recent news reports suggest that this may be changing. Still, if you’re worried that you might have this, or any other sexually transmitted disease (STD), please got to your local GUM clinic, or have a chat to your doctor. Remember that some STDs may not have any symptoms.

But it’s not all doom and gloom! Many diseases can be tested for with simple, painless tests, and treated effectively.

J x

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Birmingham Mail jumps on Syphilis bandwagon

25 03 2010

Oh dear.

Heard via Twitter that my local paper, the Birmingham Mail, had added a local spin on the Syphilis story [edit 26/3: story removed following request from Birmingham University] we are all watching with bated breath. In it, was information from an outreach officer at Birmingham. This time, it was one teensy, seeminlg innocuous statement which raised a few questions:

“In Birmingham, Ms Hyland said a 2,000 per cent increase in reports of syphilis had been logged in 2007, according to figures from the Heartlands Clinic.”

Now, not one to let things like this slip by, I dropped My Hyland an email. I had an incredibly swift response from her.

It seems she had nothing to do with the figures reported, and is trying to contact the paper and clarify the situation at the moment. She said she was upset by it all, and said that “I never said I was an expert and the figures are nowhere near what have been published! Figures can be obtained from the Health Protection Agency, and the rise of syphilis is nowhere near that of say, herpes or warts. ”

She let me know that she had been told by a masters student who had worked in a Birmingham GU clinic that ” there was a massive increase in syphilis and that babies were being born with the condition, that the disease was becoming resistant to antibiotics so their figures may well be above average the UK average.”

So where did the data come from? A two thousand percent increase is surly not just plucked from thin air…?

Update (14.55.):: Just heard the following from Ms Hyland “I (julia hyland) did not claim to be an expert in this field and the figures quoted did not come from me, I have called the Evening Mail they told me their figures came from Heartlands.”





Facebook linked to syphilis? Correlation does not mean causation.

24 03 2010

I have been following the aftermath of the Facebook/syphilis link all day with much interest.

Syphilis has been a twitter ‘trending topic’ – whether due to people discussing the scaryness of the initial story, or commenting on the lack of actual published data – so it seems to be a topic of interest to others as well as the sub-species I belong to, otherwise known as science geeks.

For those with a moment to spare, here is one of the articles, from the Telegraph 

“There has been a fourfold increase in the number of syphilis cases detected with more young women being affected.

“I don’t get the names of people affected, just figures, and I saw that several of the people had met sexual partners through these sites.

“Social networking sites are making it easier for people to meet up for casual sex.”

OK, this may be true. However, a quick Google Scholar search hasn’t shown any published research supporting this, and it is unclear where the data is coming from, how it was collected… In short, anything that might make this a real story!

I hope that real research has been done, and that given time, we will hear about it. But so far, Teeside have kept remarkably schtum.

With far greater journalists than I already having attempted contact, I shall leave it until we know more to make any further comments.

For a more in depth look at this, please check out Dr Petra’ blogpost. If nothing else, she argues, this could be an excellent route in to educating the public about this disease.

J x