The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

    Mississippi syphilis rates skyrocket

    Cases of syphilis in Mississippi have skyrocketed in 2006, with an almost 75 percent increase since 2005. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by a wormlike, spiral-shaped microscopic organism called Treponema pallidum that infects people by burying into the mucus membranes of the mouth or genitals and produces a chancre (an ulcer that is not painful).
    Lacey Leachman, health education graduate assistant for the department of health education and wellness and the Longest Student Health Center, said that in most recent years, cases of syphilis actually decreased. This is the first time in years that cases have increased so much.
    Lack of health education is the main reason for such a drastic increase in syphilis cases, Leachman said.
    “People need to be aware of the various symptoms and how syphilis is contracted,” she said.
    There are three stages of syphilis and although it can be cured, it can eventually progress to be life-threatening if not treated, Leachman said. During the primary stage, the infection is highly contagious, lasts from one to five weeks and occurs when the chancre forms. Those infected may not realize symptoms until it is too late.
    “A condom itself won’t necessarily protect you if the ulcer is on the outside of the vagina, scrotum or in the mouth,” Leachman said.
    The secondary stage lasts four to six weeks and consists of sores that look like genital warts, fever, headaches and sore throats and is highly contagious. Only about 25 percent of thoseinfected with syphilis reach this stage.
    The tertiary stage involves the brain and heart and can lead to death. The disease is usually no longer contagious at this point, Leachman said.
    Syphilis works like other infections in that the immune systems of some people may be able to fight it, but there is always an extremely high risk, she said.
    “If you make physical contact with someone who has syphilis, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be infected,” Leachman said.
    Another reason for the increase in syphilis cases is that many people are simply not aware that they should get tested regularly, Leachman said.
    “If you’re sexually active, you should get tested for syphilis and all other STD’s once a year,” she said, “If you have multiple partners, you should get tested even more often than that.”
    Cases of syphilis are not increasing in all areas of Mississippi, just some more than others, Leachman said. For example, the cases on the Gulf Coast more than doubled from 2005 to 2006.
    In the Starkville area, cases of syphilis have remained relatively consistent and have not increased over the last few years, Leachman said.
    On Feb. 19 and 20, free STI testing will be available in the Longest Student Health Center for all students.

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    Mississippi syphilis rates skyrocket