You might think of syphilis as an archaic sexually transmitted disease. But the number of syphilis cases in Southwest Florida has nearly doubled since 2011. Back then, there were about 4,000 cases. Now, there are nearly 8,000.
Syphilis is often called “The Great Imitator”, since its symptoms mirror other ailments, often causing painless sores.
Diana Pratt, the Area 8 STD Program Director with the Florida Department of Health, said syphilis isn’t the first thing that comes to doctor’s minds.
“They’ll often ask their patients ‘Have you recently been gardening or have you changed your body wash or have you changed your soap?’ and 9 times out of ten, the client will say ‘Oh – you know what? – I did change my soap,” said Pratt.
Pratt said the client is often misdiagnosed and the bacteria is free to replicate.
Infectious disease physician at the Mcgregor Clinic in Fort Myers Doug Brust said the other reason syphilis is increasing in the region is because of the demographics affected.
They’re either young people, who use dating apps. “They’re meeting and having consensual, but essentially anonymous sex,” said Brust.
Or they’re older folks, who aren’t concerned about pregnancy or about their health.
“People that are either widowed or you know out of the dating scene for a long time and they come back in as the Viagra generation and they can get HIV, they can get syphilis,” said Brust. “They can get anything.”
Another demographic seeing high rates of syphilis are men who have sex with men, a group Brust said usually have more sex partners.
The transmission of syphilis can be prevented by reducing the number of sex partners and by using condoms. But if it is transmitted, it’s curable with antibiotics. If left untreated, it could cause neurological disorders over a long period of time.