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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 6, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 06
Rare form of syphilis shows up in King County - Three of four cases are men who have sex with men
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Rare form of syphilis shows up in King County - Three of four cases are men who have sex with men

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Health officials say that a rare form of syphilis that can cause blindness has shown up in King County.

Six cases of ocular syphilis have been diagnosed in Washington state since mid-December. Four of those cases are in King County, and of the four King County patients, three are men who have sex with men.

Two patients have been blinded by the disease.

Six cases are said to be an unusually high number, since ocular syphilis affects fewer than one in every million people in the general population each year, according to Dr. Russell Van Gelder, chair of the ophthalmology department at the University of Washington.

Even among people with syphilis, the ocular form appears in only 10% of patients, he added.

The four King County cases are all men. Three of the four report having sex with other men. Men who have sex with men represent the largest group of syphilis patients in King County.

Three of the four are also HIV-positive. People with HIV are often infected with syphilis, too, health officials say.

All of the patients reported loss of vision, blurring, having a blue tinge to their vision and seeing 'floaters' and flashing lights. Three of the patients were hospitalized to receive intravenous penicillin treatment, but one patient refused care.

Nearly 400 cases of syphilis were reported in King County last year, but it is still unclear why the current cluster of ocular syphilis cases has appeared.

Health workers have been urged to step up testing for syphilis and to report any vision-related infections promptly. Patients with signs or symptoms of syphilis have been encouraged to get tested.

Health officials say that all men who have sex with men, who have had sex in the past year, and are not part of a mutually monogamous relationship should be tested for syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia and HIV at least annually - and more frequently if they are at higher risk for disease.

for more information: http://sgn.org/sgnnews43_06/pdf/Ocular%20syphilis%20community%20alert%201-22-15.pdf

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