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Straight Talk About Syphilis

By Buddy Akin

February 2001

We're HIV-positive, we live in Los Angeles (L.A.) County, and we value our health. We work hard for it. We're more aware than most. We've seen the billboards and print ads. We've heard the radio spots. We know the basics of HIV transmission, and we're well aware of last year's syphilis outbreak.

With more than half of the 144 cases of syphilis detected in L.A. County last year occurring in individuals who were already HIV-positive, the word is out: HIV and syphilis infection are closely related.

Message broadcast; message received: so far so good. What we need now is some more discussion about why people like us need to get early treatment and/or to avoid syphilis co-infection entirely.

Our Plates Are Full

Those of us who are HIV-positive already have plenty of health concerns. Let's face it: With issues like treatment options, adherence, side effects and opportunistic infections to consider, our plates are full.

We also have very real needs. Sharing and expressing intimacy and passion are important. After all, we're still human beings. With these health concerns and natural desires on our minds, thinking about one more issue can be difficult. Still, syphilis is a subject well worth taking a bit of time to learn about.

As survivors, we've had to renew our resolve before. Now more than ever we need to understand and protect ourselves against anything that could complicate our condition and challenge the level of health we work so hard to maintain.

Fortunately, we can learn enough to protect ourselves and our partners with some basic knowledge. Let's review a few of the important points about syphilis, and then talk about what each of us can do.

Key Points

There are a few important things we need to understand about syphilis, other than the basic signs and symptoms (which you can review, along with the other major STDs, in this month's "Everything You Always Wanted To Know About STDs").

Health Comes First

If you've come this far, you're probably concerned about you and your partners' health, and you realize what a threat syphilis infection can be.

Now we need to think about how we can make sure that we people with AIDS remain free of syphilis co-infection. From a practical standpoint, forcing our partners through a thorough visual inspection, cavity search, and disclosure of medical records and lab results are probably not the most constructive approaches to syphilis prevention (and sure to ruin the vibe on a first date!).

Neither is closing our eyes and hoping for the best. We need to become familiar with other strategies. It's time to take matters into our own hands.

Here are some tips and resources we can use for avoiding and/or coping with co-infection with syphilis, as well as other STDs:




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