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Syphilis on rise in Clinton County

senior staff writer

Published: Thursday, December 1, 2011

Updated: Thursday, December 1, 2011 19:12


The sexually transmitted infection syphilis is on the rise in Clinton County, which could affect anybody having sex.

According to Clinton County Health Department statistics provided by  Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Peggy LaBombard, the first nine months of 2011 showed a rate of 12.2 cases of syphilis per 100,000 people, an increase from 2.4 cases in 2010 and 1.2 cases in 2009.

According to the New York State Department of Health website, syphilis is a bacterial infection that is characterized in the primary stage by one or more painless sores in an area where sexual contact occurred. Swollen glands may show within a week after the original sore appears.

The second stage of the infection follows about six weeks after the appearance of the sores and is characterized as a rash anywhere on the body. Other symptoms in this stage may include fatigue, fever, sore throat, headache, hoarseness, loss of appetite and mild hair loss. These symptoms can last up to six weeks, but will disappear if not treated.

The final stage, called late syphilis, occurs up to four years after the initial infection. It can cause disease of the skin, bones, nervous system and heart.

According to the NYSDOH website, untreated syphilis can cause a number of complications, including heart failure, blindness and a variety of others ranging from mild to incapacitating.

"If a person does experience symptoms, he or she should seek testing and treatment immediately," LaBombard said in an email.

However, she said prevention should be everyone's focus. The best way to prevent syphilis is by practicing safe sex, such as wearing a condom or abstaining. There are a few places on campus and around Plattsburgh Stare where students can receive free testing for syphilis and other STDs like gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV. The AIDS Council of Northeastern New York is one place where one may be tested.

Diana Aguglia from the AIDS Council said they test high risk individuals, such as gay men, women who have had sex with gay men and people who have had sex with multiple partners.

To be tested there, one must make an appointment because there is only one person certified to perform blood tests, and that person works part time.

Aguglia said the AIDS Council also does testing at the Center for Student Health and Psychological Services, but this is reserved for students only.       

Clinton County is not the only place to experience an increase in cases of syphilis. The Albany area to the Canadian border has, in whole, experienced an increased number of cases, LaBombard said. Vermont also has experienced a spike in cases since this summer.

"Most of the cases have occurred in men who have sex with men," she said. "These sexual choices are becoming more open and acceptable in today's society."

She also said technology could play a hand in this increase.

"Social media makes it much easier to find interested, and perhaps anonymous partners, thus increasing the risk for becoming infected," she said.

LaBombard said education is key to preventing further spikes.

One attempt to educate the public is pamphlets found at Planned Parenthood, in doctors' offices and at events offered by Clinton County Health Department, she said.

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