UM and South Florida are in the midst of a syphilis epidemic, primarily affecting the gay male community.
“We went approximately five years without seeing a single case of syphilis, but in the last school year we have started to see cases again,” Dr. Howard Anapol, director of the Student Health Service, said. “There is an epidemic starting to occur.”
Anapol did not provide the Miami Hurricane with the exact number of cases on campus.
However, since 2001, both Miami-Dade and Broward counties have seen a jump in the number of cases reported.
According to the Miami-Dade County Health Department, Office of Epidemiology and Disease control, there have been 84 reported cases of syphilis for the month of January, compared to 89 total cases for the entire year of 2002.
Health Officials are concerned because of the close relation between syphilis and HIV.
“People have become less careful with their safe sex practices,” Anapol said. “A resurgence in syphilis will lead to a resurgence in HIV.”
Anapol believes that being away from home plays a part in encouraging high-risk behavior.
“Students come here away from mom and dad for the first time, and there is a lot of temptation,” Anapol said. “This leads to behavior that can be potentially life changing.”
According to Anapol, homosexual men are most at risk for the disease, although anyone can be infected.
“The increase in cases have predominantly been in men who have sex with men,” Anapol said. “That doesn’t mean that others can’t have it.”
Syphilis is a highly infectious bacterial STD which is transmitted when one person is exposed to lesions on an infected person through sexual activity.
Syphilis progresses through three phases: primary, secondary and latent.
The primary phase is characterized by a sore at the site of infection, which develops three to four weeks after exposure. The sore heals spontaneously after one week, but the disease is still present.
The secondary phase develops four to ten weeks after the first and may look like a number of other illnesses. This phase of syphilis can go away without treatment but the disease then progresses into the latent phase, which develops one to two years after exposure.
During the last phase, the heart, brain, skin and bones are at risk.
Students are afraid of the increase in incidents of syphilis and believe that the Health Center should do more to help students protect themselves.
“It’s scary, man,” Jon Warfield, senior, said.
“Maybe they should give out condoms in the dorms because people don’t want to walk to the Health Center unless they are ill,” Dom Hones, sophomore, said.
Anapol believes that the Health Center takes all possible steps to protect students who believe that they are infected.
“Everything is absolutely confidential,” Anapol said. “We guard our medical records very fervently.”
According to Anapol, the primary stages of syphilis are treatable with penicillin.
“We do not charge for syphilis or HIV tests,” Anapol said. “Its $80 for an injection of penicillin, which should be covered by health insurance.”
If you have any questions or concerns, contact the Student Health Center at 305-284-5927.
Arnab Basu can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.