Wednesday, July 11, 2018

The return of syphilis

The other night, I tried the first episode of The Frankenstein Chronicles on Netflix (it was OK, but after the lush, expensive looks of Babylon Berlin, the production values looked a little on the cheap side.  I'm also not that big a fan of Sean Bean).   I was interested to see that the main character is revealed to be suffering from syphilis.   (I would guess that, going forward in the series, this might be significant for introducing ambiguity as to whether what he is investigating is real or not.)  The show is set in  1829, from memory.

My son asked if taking mercury, as the guy does in the show, really did cure it.  Good question, I said.  I didn't think so - it might have helped a little, but there was always the risk that the mercury would kill the patient before the disease.   I had to double check, but I think my summary was right.   See this article from 1990, but there are several around discussing the many centuries of attempting to use mercury successfully.

Anyway, that's by way of background to some startling bad news from my home State:
In the last six years, six babies have died in the state from syphilis — a sexually transmitted disease that was nearly eradicated in the early 2000s.

In 2008, two cases were diagnosed in Queensland, and in the decade since, more than 1,100 other cases have been recorded in the north of the state, with about 200 new presentations each year.

The numbers continue to grow, despite penicillin being a cheap and effective cure.

Cairns sexual health clinician Dr Darren Russell works in the epicentre of the outbreak and said it was "out of control". 
It is, unfortunately, centred on the aboriginal communities in the north:
The outbreak started in the Indigenous community of Doomadgee, on the Gulf of Carpentaria, in 2011 with a handful of cases.

At the time, sexual health services across Queensland were cut by the Campbell Newman-led Queensland government, and health workers claimed the opportunity to stop the escalation was missed.

The number of cases quickly spiralled out of control because of the transient nature of people in Indigenous communities, and the outbreak spread across Queensland, into the Northern Territory, and into South and Western Australia.
I thought that it was at least one of the more obvious diseases to have realised you have caught, but according to this health worker:
Aboriginal Health worker Neville Reys from Wuchopperen Health, said testing — and therefore treatment — was hindered because of shame and stigma.

"Syphilis can draw out up to six months before you really realise that you have got it, and in that timeline there's lots of sexual activity, so it can be spread around really easily."
Well, now that I double check the timing, I see that the first, painless chancre can take  10 days to 3 weeks to appear, and particularly in women, may be internal and not noticed.  The secondary rash can take 2 to 10 weeks after the chancre.  So, yeah, that is getting close to 6 months if the primary indication is missed.   I would assume, however, that most men who have it for more than a few months have ignored the sore on their penis.  

Still, its appalling that the disease has been spreading so widely without successful public health intervention.

1 comment:

John said...

Still, its appalling that the disease has been spreading so widely without successful public health intervention.

STDs have long been a problem in aboriginal communities. So I'm confident efforts have been made but this is about personal behavior. It doesn't receive public attention because anyone who questions aborigines about their personal behavior will be subject to charges of racism.