Pretty much everyone can agree in this day and age that the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a good thing.
Studies show that when taken daily PrEP can reduce the risk of HIV infection by 92 percent.
But – yes, there’s a but – PrEP doesn’t take the place of a condom when it comes to being protected from sexually transmitted diseases like Syphilis.
And there’s not much less sexy than syphilis. Symptoms can include a sore on your mouth, rectum or genitals, fatigue, itching, rash and more. And that’s the early stages. Late stage syphilis can lead to serious health issues like blindness, brain damage and harm to organs.
The disease is transmitted through semen, blood, and skin contact with open sores, unprotected anal and vaginal sex, or sharing needles.
This may be information you've seen before. But, according to NBC affiliate KMIR, there is currently a syphilis outbreak among gay men underway in Palm Springs, California.
The rate of syphilis in Palm Springs is 185 cases per 100,000 people, which is more than 10 times the rate in California overall.
Marcella Herrera-Carpenter, the program coordinator for the Riverside University Health System, told KMIR the county is still sourcing the reason behind the outbreak, but they do know that men who practice sex with men make-up most of the cases.
And we know there’s a large gay population in Palm Springs.
Dr. Christopher Foltz who works with the Desert AIDS Project says that men who are using PrEP should be doing it in conjunction with condoms.
He also stressed that men who feel they may be at risk should not be afraid to ask their doctors about syphilis and get tested for it.
One more thing you should know: IF you test positive for syphilis your local health department will have to be notified by law. And the health officials there will have to contact you for an interview to confirm that you got treatment for the infection and to ask who you believe may have passed the infection on to you.
I live in Las Vegas and this has happened to a friend of mine. When he got the call, he decided he was a little embarrassed and didn’t want to talk to a stranger about it. After several follow-up calls, the health official showed up at his door asking for the short interview.
Now this is all an effort to contain the spread of syphilis, but it doesn’t sound like a fun chat to have.
So gentlemen, first and foremost, for very real health reasons, consider how you play – even if you’re on PrEP.
And, if you don’t want a knock on your door asking some pretty personal questions (“Do you know who exposed you to the infection? What is their name? What is their phone number?"), consider how you play – even if you’re on PrEP.