Disease Prevention- HIV and STDs

A division of the VDH Office of EpidemiologyDivision of Disease Prevention

The mission of the Division of Disease Prevention (DDP) is to maximize public health and safety through the elimination, prevention, and control of disease, disability, and death caused by HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, other sexually transmitted infections .

Syphilis Strikes Back: Why Are We Talking About Syphilis in 2017?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can cause serious health problems if left untreated. Syphilis is easy to cure with the right treatment. Syphilis has stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary); each stage has different symptoms. Symptoms may include a painless sore, a rash on the body, hands, or feet, patchy hair loss, or even sudden changes in vision. Learn to recognize the symptoms of syphilis.

The United States is experiencing the highest numbers of reported syphilis cases in over 20 years. Rates are on the rise in men, women, newborns, most age groups, all regions, and almost every race/ethnicity.  In Virginia, the number of reported syphilis cases increased 40% between 2015 and 2016. The recent rise of syphilis highlights its ability to affect many communities at anytime and anywhere. We encourage you to learn how you can disrupt syphilis!

Men who have sex with men (MSM) are experiencing rates of syphilis not seen since before the HIV epidemic. In Virginia in 2015, 90% of reported cases of syphilis were among men. Three out of four cases of reported syphilis were among MSM. Half of MSM who have syphilis also have HIV. If you are a man who has sex with men:

  • Know what puts you at risk for syphilis and how to avoid and lower those risks.
  • Get tested for HIV and STDs, including syphilis, frequently. If you have multiple or anonymous partners, you should get tested every 3 months or a least once a year.

Pregnant women are also experiencing increasing rates of syphilis. When a pregnant woman has syphilis, her baby may be stillborn or miscarried. Congenital syphilis is when a baby is born with syphilis. If you are pregnant:

  • Get tested for syphilis the first time you see your doctor for healthcare during pregnancy. Your doctor may want to test you later in your pregnancy and again when your baby is born.
  • If you test positive for syphilis, get treated right away. Medicine used to cure syphilis is safe for you and your baby to receive during pregnancy.
  • Make sure your sex partner(s) receive treatment to avoid getting syphilis again.

Just Say No!—To Addiction Stigma

When we shame a person for a particular trait, quality, or action, it’s called stigma.  There is a lot of stigma in our society against many groups of people, like persons who have been in jail, those that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, immigrants, and persons with diseases like addiction disorders.  Stigma associated with addiction implies that the person with an addiction disorder, “did it to themselves,” or “is weak,” or “can stop at any time, they just don’t want to,” when in reality, they are struggling with a disease.

Stigma is a public health issue — it contributes to high rates of death (by overdose and suicide), incarceration, and mental health issues among persons with addiction disorders.  Thousands of Virginians are dependent on drugs or alcohol and only a small percentage receive treatment.  In fact, the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 21.5 million Americans age 12 and older had a substance use disorder in the previous year; however, sadly only 2.5 million received the specialized treatment they needed.

Stigma can also affect the public’s perception of evidence-based harm reduction strategies.  Harm reduction refers to public health interventions like:

  • Needle exchanges and sterile syringe programs
  • Substitution therapies- like methadone, buprenorphine, and other medication assisted therapies

Some people believe these programs encourage drug use – despite evidence showing that they actually decrease drug use.

Becoming dependent on drugs can happen to anyone.  It’s important to keep in mind that we need to do a better job of decreasing stigma around drug use.  Unfortunately, people who experience stigma regarding their drug use are less likely to seek treatment, which results in economic, social, and medical costs to all of us.  In the United States, costs associated with untreated addiction (including those related to healthcare, criminal justice, and lost productivity) amounts to approximately $510 billion per year.  Reducing the stigma associated with addiction disorders not only saves lives, but tax dollars.

For more information on addiction, stigma, or Virginia’s opioid epidemic, visit www.vaaware.com.

Content notice: The Division of Disease Prevention website contains HIV/STD prevention messages that may be considered explicit by some visitors.