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More and more people are contracting syphilis in Germany
For a long time, the venereal disease syphilis was hardly widespread in Germany, but the number of diseases has increased again in recent years, reports the German Society for Internal Medicine (DGIM). Especially men and women who have unprotected sexual intercourse with different partners should therefore pay more attention to possible symptoms. Because with early diagnosis, the disease is relatively easy to treat. According to doctors, "the complaints are non-specific for a very long time, so that the diagnosis is often made late".
According to the DGIM, over 5,000 cases of syphilis were registered with the Robert Koch Institute in 2013. In 2009, the number was still around 3,000 cases. "After syphilis infections only recently occurred in Germany, the number has increased again since the beginning of the decade," reports the specialist society. A syphilis infection often goes unnoticed, which is associated with correspondingly late diagnoses. On the one hand, this harbors the risk of unwitting transmission of the pathogen and, on the other hand, an increased risk of long-term damage to health. The German Society for Internal Medicine therefore advises "to pay more attention to the clinical picture." In the worst case, syphilis can be fatal, "but if diagnosed early, it can be treated effectively," said the DGIM statement.
Majority of new syphilis infections affect men According to the DGIM, syphilis transmission is mostly caused by unprotected sexual intercourse and "while the infection rate in women has been consistently low for years, the number of men suffering from syphilis is currently increasing." More than 90 percent of new infections affect men. After contact with the pathogens (spiral bacteria; Treponema pallidum), a painless ulcer, the so-called “hard chick”, initially forms at the entry point nine to ninety days later, reports the DGIM. As a rule, this also heals untreated within two weeks. The infection is by no means over. In addition, this “primary effect of syphilis often goes unnoticed,” explains Professor Dr. med. Dr. h.c. Ulrich Fölsch, General Secretary of the DGIM from Kiel.
Inconspicuous course of the venereal disease According to the expert, due to the inconspicuous course, "only a third of syphilis cases are discovered in the first stage." If no treatment is given here, the disease passes to the next stage around seven to eight weeks later. The pathogens have spread throughout the body and itchy rash forms - "often on the trunk, palms and soles of the feet", according to the DGIM announcement. Even at this stage, syphilis can heal itself without treatment. "In healthy people, the immune system succeeds in completely eliminating the pathogen in about thirty percent of the cases," explains Professor Fölsch. In particular, patients with a weakened immune system (for example, with HIV) often experience rapid progression of the disease.
Damage to the brain and cardiovascular system According to the DGIM communication, "years to decades" can pass before the transition to the third stage of syphilis. The transition is noticeable through knots or spots on the skin and later also through the formation of ulcers. The correct diagnosis is often only brought about by analyzing a skin sample, "because syphilis can take the form of many diseases," reports Professor Fölsch. Therefore, the venereal disease was formerly referred to as the "chameleon of medicine". In the late stages, however, according to the expert, syphilis is no longer limited to the skin, but the blood vessels can also be severely damaged. For example, “an aneurysm caused by the infection can burst at any time and cause sudden death.” In addition, Professor Fölsch reports damage to the heart valves and brain. The good news, however, is that syphilis can still be treated relatively reliably with a two-week penicillin treatment even in the late stages. "However, damage to the blood vessels or nervous system that has occurred remains," says Fölsch. It is therefore particularly important that the disease is recognized early. (fp)
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