Syphilis Through Oral Sex on the Rise
October 22, 2004
Syphilis is increasingly being transmitted through oral sex, according to a new CDC report published Friday. Mistaken in the belief that oral sex is safe sex, many people are unaware they can readily catch or transmit syphilis in this manner. Moreover, syphilitic sores in the mouth can increase the risk of HIV infection.Adapted from:
Over the period from 1998 to 2002, Dr. C. Ciesielski and colleagues from the Chicago Department of Public Health observed patterns of syphilis transmission change substantially. During the 1990s, syphilis occurred almost exclusively among heterosexuals, the researchers noted. But since 2001, men who have sex with men account for nearly 60 percent of people with syphilis.
To explain these findings, the researchers interviewed people who were infected with syphilis in 2000-2002. In nearly 14 percent of cases, oral sex was the subjects only sexual exposure during the time they were infected; this mode was reported by 20 percent of MSM with syphilis, and 6-7 percent of heterosexuals. These figures did not include possible infection through oral sex when sexual intercourse also occurred.
People with syphilis in the mouth may not show any symptoms, or the sores could be mistaken for herpes or aphthous ulcers, the researchers noted. The syphilitic sores may carry high concentrations of the germ and be highly infectious.
"These data underscore the need for educating sexually active persons regarding the risk for syphilis transmission through oral sex," the researchers concluded. "Persons who are not in a long-term monogamous relationship and who engage in oral sex should use barrier protection (e.g., male condoms or other barrier methods) to reduce the risk for sexually transmitted disease (STD) transmission," the researchers advised.
The full report, "Transmission of Primary and Secondary Syphilis by Oral Sex -- Chicago, Illinois, 1998-2002," was published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (2004;53(41):966-968).
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.