Oh Good – A Medieval STI That Causes Brain Damage And Hair Loss Is Infecting Eyes

Symptoms may not appear until weeks after being exposed.

If you’ve ever found yourself in the unfortunate chain of people that’s contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI), you’ll be familiar with the process of telling recent sexual partners that they need to get tested, too.

Now, imagine being the unnamed man in a Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report this week who not only gave five women the same STI – syphilis – but that it’s actually, in a very rare circumstance, spread via their eyes. Ouch.

The CDC report stated “A cluster of five cases of ocular syphilis in women with a common male sex partner was identified in Michigan, suggesting that an unidentified Treponema pallidum strain might have been a risk factor for developing systemic manifestations of syphilis.”

Syphilis cases soaring in England

While this happened across the pond, it is especially concerning as syphilis cases in England have reached a 75 year high in 2023. The sexual health experts at Condoms UK have raised concerns over this outbreak as the symptoms can be extremely serious.

They explained: “Syphilis symptoms tend to change over time, making them tricky to identify. Common signs include painless sores or ulcers on the genitals, mouth, or hands, along with white or grey warty growths and rashes on the palms or soles.”

Adding that “some may experience flu-like symptoms, swollen glands, and patchy hair loss, which might not appear until weeks after being exposed.”

Condoms UK also warned that left untreated, syphilis can lead to severe health issues including:

  • angina
  • aortic aneurysm
  • heart failure
  • seizures
  • memory difficulties
  • personality changes
  • shooting pains
  • joint pain
  • cause issues with skin, bones, testicles, liver and other organs, leading to complications across the body

In the case of this new strain, they added that distinct symptoms can include pain, redness, floating spots, sensitivity to light, and blurred or loss of vision.

They added: “However, what makes syphilis particularly concerning is that even if symptoms improve or disappear, the infection remains in your body, putting you at risk of spreading it and developing serious problems later on.

“The recent case in Michigan, where one man transmitted the infection to five women, illustrates this alarming reality of how easy it is to pass on.”

How to protect against STIs

According to the NHS Solent, using a condom when you have sex is the best way to avoid catching an STI, however there are a number of things you can do to help prevent the risk of exposure to infections.

These include:

  • Talking with your partner(s) about STIs, sexual health and contraception use before having sex.
  • Getting tested, along with your partner before sexual activity. Many STIs have no symptoms at all so it’s safer to get tested.
  • Avoiding sex when under the influence of alcohol or drugs as this can reduce your ability to make good decisions.
  • Some clinicians may recommend that you have a vaccine against Human Papillomavirus (HPV) and Hepatitis B (Hep B).