Italians called it “the Spanish disease.” The French dubbed it “the English disease.” Among Russians, it was known as “the Polish disease.” Among Arabs? “The disease of Christians.”
No one wanted to claim it, and with good reason. The disease, syphilis, begins by causing crusty sores in private places. After hiding out in the body for years, it can emerge to drive people insane and then kill them.
Men apparently don’t know everything about sex, which propelled our story on sex mistakes to the runaway favorite in 2008. Eating and drinking also ranked high on readers’ to-do list.
Those topics are among the most viewed men’s health stories on WebMD for 2008.
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Syphilis is just one of more than a dozen nasty sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs, that take advantage of the joy of sex to spread their special misery. Along with gonorrhea, chlamydia, genital herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), and HIV/AIDS, syphilis is one of the six most common STDs. Despite tremendous advances in understanding and controlling STDs -- or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), as they are sometimes called -- they’re still out there spoiling the party.
Here’s the latest information on some of the most common or worrisome STDs -- and on the effectiveness of condoms to prevent them.
By far the most dreaded sexually transmitted disease, the number of infections of HIV/AIDS has been falling slowly but surely. The latest numbers from the CDC, which tracks rates of reportable sexually transmitted infections, put the rate of new HIV/AIDS infections among Americans at 38,730 a year -- half of what they were in 1992, when the epidemic peaked.
That’s still far too many for a disease that’s largely preventable, experts say. An estimated 44% of new cases are among men who have sex with men, and 34% are among heterosexuals. Injection drug use accounts for 17% of new cases.
Generally, the highest risk of HIV/AIDS infection is among black men. Among new cases diagnosed between 2001 and 2004, 51% were among blacks, who were seven times more likely to become infected than white men.
Early signs of HIV/AIDS infection can include flu-like symptoms, unexplained rashes, fungal infections in the throat, and unusual tiredness. As the disease progresses and the immune system is compromised, cancers and life-threatening infections such as cytomegalovirus can occur. Often, however, early infection with HIV/AIDS has no symptoms. An estimated one-quarter of Americans who carry the virus -- 250,000 in all -- don’t know they are infected. That’s why being tested is so important. If you are sexually active with more than one partner -- or have any reason to think you might have been exposed to HIV in the past -- go in for screening.
Thanks to the new antiviral medicine “cocktails,” many people are surviving HIV/AIDS and living active lives. But the drugs have unpleasant side effects, such as muscle wasting. And the disease can still be lethal. In 2005, more than 16,000 people died of HIV/AIDS, according to the CDC.