A scientist looks through a microscope.
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
There has been an increase in the number of cases of syphilis in the Tel Aviv district in the last two years, primarily among refugees and foreign workers, the Health Ministry reported on Thursday.
In addition to sexual transmission, it can also be transmitted by mothers to their fetuses during pregnancy (congenital syphilis).
The number of reported cases rose significantly from 38 in 2012 to 112 last year.
Syphilis is caused by a subspecies of the spirochete bacterium Treponema pallidum.
Depending on when it is diagnosed, the symptoms may include ulceration of the skin of sexual organs, a rash usually on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, or neurological or cardiac problems at a late stage. Untreated, it causes death in 58 percent of cases.
The disease can be diagnosed through blood tests or through a process called dark-field microscopy.
Treatment is by antibiotics given by injection or intravenously.
The prevalence of syphilis declined after antibiotics became available in the 1940s, but rose again since 2000 in numerous countries, often together with HIV/AIDS and among homosexual men. Unprotected sex with prostitutes and numerous partners raises the risk of contracting additional infections such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, human papilloma virus (that can cause cervical cancer) and HIV, the ministry said. It can also be spread via oral sex. There is no protective vaccine.
The health authorities urge those at high risk for syphilis to go periodically to a specialized clinic or one’s own physician. If there is a diagnosis of syphilis, one must inform sexual partners to be checked and if necessary, treated.
The Tel Aviv District Health Office runs the free Levinsky Clinic for the anonymous diagnosis and prevention of venereal diseases; there is another in Haifa. The Tel Aviv clinic is located at the new central bus station. Call (03) 537- 3738 for an appointment.