Ever get into one of those conversations that you wonder later how you got drawn into? Some time back, I was gassing with an acquaintance, and the subject of venereal diseases came up; my acquaintance mentioned having seen a news piece about a spike in Chlamydia cases. I shrugged. "Doesn't really affect me," I said.
"Oh," my acquaintance replied. "Guess you're in a low-risk group, right?"
I reflected on that. I'm in my '60s, happily married, faithful to my wife, and have been for 32 years. "Ain't none lower."
Now we see that syphilis cases are reaching record numbers, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) predictably blames the problem on the federal government not throwing enough money at it.
Syphilis rates have continued to surge, reaching levels the nation hasn’t seen since 1950, according to new federal data released Tuesday.
According to the report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), syphilis cases increased 17 percent in the past year and 80 percent in the past five years. With Congress set to cut the funding for workers who fight sexually transmitted infections, experts warn the record-setting epidemic isn’t likely to abate.
“The STI field has reached a tipping point. We have long known that these infections are common, but we have not faced such severe effects of syphilis in decades,” Laura Bachmann, acting director of CDC’s STD division, said in a statement.
I suppose that teaching people about syphilis and other venereal diseases (it always seemed to me that Venus got a bad rap with that classification) can have some effect on cases. But why is it, with these bureaucrats, the answer is always to throw more taxpayer dollars at the problem? Syphilis is almost completely preventable. It's transmitted by sexual contact, as well as being passed on by pregnant mothers to their babies, but sex is the primary vector. A tad bit of caution in your choice of sexual partners would appear to be in order. And if one does come down with what was for years known in England as the French Pox (while being known in France as the English Pox), there are antibiotic treatments that can clear it up very easily.
But no, the CDC needs more money; we can spend money on banning menthol cigarettes and helping the World Health Organization define "Genderf***ing," but need also spend more money on syphilis. Why not?
The history of syphilis is interesting. Syphilis was one of the very first things to be part of trans-Atlantic trade in the post-Columbus world, as syphilis originated in the Americas and was taken to the Old World, in return for which Old World sailors and settlers brought gonorrhea to the New World.
Seems like a fair trade.
None of this should be taken to downplay how serious syphilis can be. In the days before antibiotics, syphilis was a real horror; after the initial appearance of symptoms, it could hide away in a patient's body for years, even decades, exploding later as anything from a rash to a horrible, disfiguring syndrome known as gummatous syphilis. It has been known as the Great Pretender, presenting a wide range of symptoms that could be mistakenly diagnosed as a host of other complaints.
Even so, this outbreak is due to behavior. Purely because of behavior. And it can be addressed by addressing behavior. People don't have to stop having sex; just exercise a little discretion with choosing partners, and if there is the slightest doubt, a test before commencing relations is in order. It's also a pretty good argument for monogamy.
Maybe that's what the CDC should be putting their efforts into.