By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE number of syphilis cases among other reported instances of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) is on the rise in the Bahamas, said Ministry of Health officials yesterday.
According to Larry Ferguson, Coordinator of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) at the Ministry, the incidence of persons who contracted syphilis since 2010 is concerning, especially among younger people.
Prior to 2010 the older population, in some cases those up to 80 or 90-years-old, were the front runners in statistical data, Ms Ferguson said. However, as more young people contract syphilis, healthcare professionals believe there is substantial mixing in sexual activity between both age categories.
Ms Ferguson was not able to give the specific numbers of increase in syphilis cases since 2010 but she insisted that there was no doubt that the rise was significant. She said the same has been found in other Caribbean countries.
She noted that the groups most at risk in recent times were men who have sex with men (MSM’s) along with the unemployed and underemployed.
“We know that for the longest time,” Ms Ferguson said, “we have been seeing chlamydia more than any other infection. But even though we are seeing a large number of chlamydia more than any other infection chlamydia cases are going down.
“However we are seeing an increase in syphilis. That is the one thing that we are concerned about. What we find for syphilis, not specifically 15 to 24 age range even though they are included, is prior to this time we always saw syphilis in our older population. Just now we are having syphilis in that population which is a concern and tells us that there is a mixing of the two.
“Unemployed persons who engage in transactional sex, they don’t call themselves commercial sex workers, they just have sex for things. That group is at high risk because quite often if you are going to have transactional sex the other person might not want to use a condom. ‘You want the money, I want the sex so you have to go on my terms’ and that’s one of the reasons why they are at high risk.
“Men who have sex with men, in many cases you have a group and they stay amongst themselves. So if one has syphilis and is intermingling it is more likely that it will spread. But with this group there are persons in the group who take the initiative to ensure that other group members get care and come for testing and necessary treatment.”
Ms Ferguson was speaking to reporters during the Ministry of Health’s first STD Awareness Symposium where scores of health professionals gathered under the theme “Talk, Test, Treat”.
With the rise in cases, the Ministry of Health runs ongoing awareness programmes to sensitise the public of the risk factors involved with unprotected sexual activity.