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At the South Austin Medical Clinic, Dr. Todd Canon says he saw no cases of syphilis when he started about four and a half years ago. That’s changed. Dr. Canon said he saw 6 to 10 cases in 2013. "And in the past year I saw more than the previous year, so it seems like it’s still increasing," he said.
Those numbers mirror what’s going on in Travis County as a whole. "Some preliminary data from the state health department indicated between 2013 and 2014, a 65 percent increase," said Dr Phil Huang, the medical director of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department. That’s on top of a 68 percent increase in the number of syphilis cases between 2006 and 2013.
The sexually transmitted disease first shows itself with a lesion, which goes away after 3 to 6 weeks. Then, there’s a rash that also disappears. And if the syphilis is not treated, it lingers in the system and years later can cause neurological problems, paralysis, or even death.
Ninety-four percent of the new cases in Travis County are men who have sex with men — men who may or may not identify as gay. Dr. Canon says some of those men are involved with women as well. "Many men have sex with men who don’t identify that way so yea it does present a larger threat outside of what we think of as the gay community."
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