Chlamydia Conjunctivitis

Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by the bacterium Chlamydia Trachomatis. It is one of the most common STIs worldwide, and likewise here in Singapore. According to the latest statistics provided by the Department of STI Control (DSC) Clinic, there were officially 2,719 newly diagnosed cases of Chlamydia reported in 2018.

It is well known that Chlamydia affects the genito-urinary system, with the typical symptoms being painful urination, increased urinary frequency or urgency, penile or vaginal discharge, testicular pain or swelling in men, and painful sex or bleeding after sex in women. You may also be aware that Chlamydia can sometimes be completely asymptomatic. However, what most people may not know is that Chlamydia can affect other parts of the body as well, namely the eyes, rectum, throat and joints.

In this article, we will focus on Chlamydia eye infection, also known as Chlamydia Conjunctivitis. You can read more about Chlamydia as an overall topic in a previous article:


What is Chlamydia Conjunctivitis?

Conjunctivitis is inflammation or infection of the conjunctiva, a clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelids. The conjunctiva helps to lubricate the eye by producing mucus and tears, and prevents the entry of microbes into the eye. The various causes of conjunctivitis include viral or bacterial infections, allergies, chemical irritation and foreign objects. Therefore Chlamydia Conjunctivitis refers to conjunctivitis resulting from a Chlamydia infection.

How does Chlamydia Conjunctivitis occur?

Chlamydia Conjunctivitis is directly spread from the bacteria entering the eyes. This usually happens from touching or rubbing your eyes after touching your genitals (if you have Chlamydia) or those of an infected partner. It is also possible to get infected from sharing towels, eye makeup or cosmetics that contain the bacteria.

Signs and symptoms

Chlamydia Conjunctivitis can present acutely, but more commonly patients have mild symptoms for weeks to months. The majority of cases affect only one eye, and vision is usually unaffected.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Red, itchy, swollen or scratchy eyes
  • Mucous, sticky discharge
  • Tearing
  • Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  • Swollen eyelids
  • Crusting and sticking of eyelids
  • Foreign body sensation
  • Enlarged lymph nodes behind the ears

How to tell the difference between Chlamydia Conjunctivitis and other forms of conjunctivitis?

As Chlamydia Conjunctivitis presents very similarly to viral and other bacterial conjunctivitis, it is not possible to tell the difference based on eye signs and symptoms alone. For this reason, many patients may have been previously treated, or self-medicated, with various types of eye drops without symptomatic relief. A diagnosis of Chlamydia Conjunctivitis is usually suspected if close questioning reveals genito-urinary symptoms, or if the sexual partners of these patients have similar eye symptoms.

Who is at risk?

Chlamydia can affect anyone who is sexually active, both males and females alike, regardless of sexual preference or orientation. Young people may be at higher risk for various reasons, including practices like inconsistent condom usage.

Diagnosis

Chlamydia Conjunctivitis is usually diagnosed based on history and examination of the eye. If necessary, a swab test of the conjunctiva can be performed. Your doctor may advise you to test for other STIs as well.

STD Screening Singapore | Rapid STD Test for Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea PCR

Treatment for Chlamydia Conjunctivitis

If left untreated, Chlamydia Conjunctivitis resolves spontaneously in 6 to 18 months, but most individuals would seek treatment due to the severity of the symptoms. Chlamydia Conjunctivitis is treated with topical antibiotics such as tetracycline, erythromycin and fluoroquinolones, but due to the high probability of concomitant genital tract infection, oral antibiotic therapy is recommended. Sexual partners of the patients should be contacted, evaluated and treated.

Prevention

  • Wash your hands regularly, avoid touching or rubbing your eyes unless your hands are clean
  • Do not share eye makeup or cosmetics with anyone
  • Refrain from sharing towels, washcloths, pillows, or sheets with anyone. If one of your eyes is affected but not the other, use a separate towel for each eye
  • Observe safe sexual practices including consistent and correct usage of condoms, reducing your number of partners or being in a mutually monogamous relationship where you are aware of your partner’s sexual health status
  • Regular STI screening helps you remain aware of your own sexual health status

Neonatal Chlamydia Conjunctivitis

Although relatively harmless in adults, Chlamydia Conjunctivitis can have severe health consequences in children. Infection is acquired from an infected mother during vaginal delivery, from exposure to the bacteria in the birth canal. Chlamydia Trachomatis is responsible for up to 40% of conjunctivitis in neonates. If left untreated, neonatal conjunctivitis can cause blindness.

The symptoms usually develop within 1 day to 2 weeks after birth and typically include redness of the conjunctiva, eyelid swelling, and mucous discharge. At least half of neonates with Chlamydia Conjunctivitis also have the bacteria present in the nasopharynx, and some go on to develop Chlamydia pneumonia. Therefore, oral antibiotic therapy is the treatment of choice in neonatal Chlamydia Conjunctivitis as it can also target concomitant nasopharyngeal infection.

The condition can be prevented by undergoing prompt screening and treatment if a genital infection is suspected during pregnancy. Deliveries should be conducted under hygienic conditions taking all aseptic measures. The newborn baby’s closed lids should be thoroughly cleansed and dried.

Next Read: Common STD Incubation Periods

Common STD Incubation Periods

STD Incubation Period. The incubation period for the various STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) is a common question asked by patients in our clinics. It refers to the time between acquiring the infection and the presentation of symptoms. This is different from the window period, which refers to the period after infection in which no current available tests are sensitive enough to detect the infection. The window period for the various STIs depends on which tests are used. 

As different STIs have different incubation periods, it is not easy to answer the question when symptoms will appear after a particular risky exposure. I will list below the common STIs tested for, their incubation and window period as well as possible initial presentation. 


The following are the Common STDs and their incubating periods:

#1 STD Incubation Period – Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

Early HIV infection refers to approximately 6 months after initial acquisition. It is estimated that 10 to 60 percent of all early HIV infections are asymptomatic, or without any symptoms. For early symptomatic HIV infection, the usual incubation period is around 2 to 4 weeks, although incubation periods as long as 10 months have been observed.

Acute symptomatic HIV infection present with a collection of signs and symptoms known as Acute Retroviral Syndrome (ARS). The most common findings for ARS are fever, sore throat, rash, swollen lymph nodes, body aches and pains. However, all these symptoms are not specific to acute HIV infection, hence please do not panic if you observe these symptoms after a risky encounter. See your doctor for further advice and testing

The Window period for HIV testing depends on the test that is conducted. The initially 10 days after exposure is known as the eclipse period, for which there are no tests that can pick up any infection. The earliest tests that can be done with conclusive results are the HIV ProViral DNA test or the HIV RNA PCR test, which can pick up possible acute infections 10 days after exposure.

4th Generation HIV tests will be conclusive around 28 days after exposure, while 3rd Generation HIV tests will be conclusive around 90 days after exposure. 

Anonymous HIV Testing is available at our Robertson Walk Branch. HIV Test results in 20 mins.


#2 STD Incubation Period – Syphilis

Approximately 50% of patients diagnosed with syphilis do not have any symptoms. This is because syphilis has 3 stages of infection: Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Syphilis and Primary and Secondary syphilis might have symptoms that are so mild that they are ignored by the patient.

Primary syphilis presents with a painless ulcer on the genitalia, known as a chancre. The incubation period for a chancre appears to range from 3 to 90 days, with an average of around 21 days. The chancre will heal within 3 to 6 weeks even without treatment. Within weeks to a few months after the chancre appears, around 25 percent of untreated individuals will develop Secondary Syphilis.

Secondary Syphilis can present with a widespread rash, ulcers, patchy hair loss, swollen lymph nodes, weight loss and fatigue. The infection subsequently goes into a latent phase lasting for years for which there are no signs or symptoms. This is the reason why the majority of syphilis picked up on routine screening are asymptomatic.

Neurosyphilis occurs when the infection reaches the central nervous system i.e. the brain or spinal cord. Neurosyphilis can occur at any stage of infection, but tends to occur in tertiary syphilis. Therefore, neurosyphilis can occur within a few months, but could also develop after 10 to 30 years, of a syphilis infection. 

The window period for syphilis testing depends on the stage of syphilis infection. The blood tests (FTA-ABS and TPPA) will be positive around 1 to 2 weeks after chancre formation. 


#3 STD Incubation Period – Hepatitis B and C

The majority of hepatitis B and C infection are asymptomatic. It has been estimated that around 30 percent of acute hepatitis B infection and less than 25 percent of acute hepatitis C infection are symptomatic. Symptoms of acute infection tend to be very mild and may include the following: Fever, Fatigue, Nausea/vomiting, Dark Urine, Pale stools and abdominal pain. 

The incubation for acute hepatitis B infection is estimated to be around 1 month to 4 month, while the incubation period for acute hepatitis C infection is estimated to be from 2 weeks to 3 months.

The window period for both hepatitis B and C testing for antibodies is on the average about a month. It will be much shorter if alternate tests such as the Hepatitis C RNA PCR test for Hepatitis B Viral Load are used instead.


#4 STD Incubation Period – Genital Herpes

Genital herpes is caused by both Herpes Simplex Virus 1 or 2 (HSV1/2). Genital herpes infections often do not have symptoms or mild symptoms that go unrecognized. It is estimated that one third of patients with new infections do not have symptoms. The initial presentation of symptoms range from severe with painful genitalia ulcers, painful urination, painful lymph node swellings and fever. However, patients also can have mild or no symptoms as well. The initial presentation does not depends on the type of virus (HSV1 vs HSV2)

The incubation period for genital herpes is around 4 days, with a range from 2 days to 12 days.

For asymptomatic infections, HSV 1/2 Antibodies will start appearing in the serum starting from 3 weeks and majority of patients would have antibodies by 16 weeks. The window period for testing for asymptomatic patients is hence from 3 weeks to 16 weeks. For patients with symptoms of the painful genital ulcers, the test of choice is Nucleic Acid Amplification Testing (NAAT) for which a swab of the ulcer is taken and tested for HSV DNA. There is no window period for NAAT.

Rapid Herpes Testing with Next Day Results is available in all DTAP Clinic in Singapore.


#5 STD Incubation Period – Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea causes different symptoms for men and women. For women, the cervix is the most common site of infection and the common symptoms are vaginal itch and discharge. Some women also have heavier periods or bleeding in-between periods. If the infection has ascended beyond the cervix into the uterus, this is a potentially more dangerous condition known as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) for which abdomen pain and fever are common symptoms. Up to 70 percent of patients with cervical gonorrhea infection are asymptomatic. 

For men, urethritis is the most common presentation of gonorrhea infections. It is characterised by purulent urethral discharge and painful urination. In contrast to infections in women, the majority of infections in men are symptomatic. 

In women, the incubation period for genital infection is around 10 days. In men, the incubation period for symptomatic infected men is around 2 to 5 days, with 90 percent of these individuals with symptoms of urethritis by 2 weeks.  

The gold standard for testing for gonorrhea infection is NAAT, a urine sample for men and a cervical swab for women. As NAAT is able to detect low numbers of organisms with good accuracy, there is no window period for NAAT testing.

Rapid Gonorrhea & Chlamydia Testing with Next Day Results is available in all DTAP Clinic in Singapore.


#6 STD Incubation Period – Chlamydia

Chlamydia causes similar symptoms as gonorrhea in both men and women. In women, the cervix is also the most common site of infection with a proportion of patients having a urethra infection as well. However the majority of infected women, around 85 percent of patients are asymptomatic with neither signs or symptoms.

Symptoms of chlamydia infection are similar to gonorrhea in men as well, with a clear to mucoid penile discharge and painful urination. The proportion of asymptomatic infection varies as well in men, ranging from 40 to 96 percent with no symptoms. 

The incubation period for symptomatic infection ranges from 5 to 14 days after exposure for both men and women.

The gold testing for testing for chlamydia infection is NAAT as well. There is no window period for NAAT testing.

Rapid Gonorrhea & Chlamydia Testing with Next Day Results is available in all DTAP Clinic in Singapore.


Asymptomatic/Mild Infections (%)Incubation PeriodSample TypesWindow Period
HIV10 to 602 to 4 weeksBloodProviral DNA : 10 days
RNA PCR : 12 days
4th Generation Ag/Ab :28 days
3rd Generation Ag : 90 days
Syphilis503 to 90 days
Average 21 days
BloodFTA-ABS : 1 to 2 weeks after chancre
Hepatitis BMajority Asymptomatic1 month to 4 monthBloodHbsAg : 1 month
Hepatitis CMajority Asymptomatic2 weeks to 3 monthBloodAnti-HCV Ab : 1 month
Herpes702 to 12 days
Average 4 days
Blood/
Swab
HSV 1/2 IgG : 3 to 16 weeks
HSV DNA PCR : No window period
GonorrheaWomen: 70
Men: Majority Symptomatic
Women:10 days
Men: 2 to 5 days
Swab/
Urine
Gonorrhea DNA PCR: No window period
ChlamydiaMajority Asymptomatic5 to 14 daysSwab/
Urine
Chlamydia DNA PCR: No window period

If you like to speak to our doctors on your STD concern, please visit any of our clinics in Singapore & Malaysia.

You can also email us at hello@dtapclinic.com, or call any of our clinics for an appointment

Also on this site: HIV Screening, HIV Test Clinic Singapore, STD Clinic Singapore


Crabs STDs – Pubic Lice

Pediculosis pubis also known as the Crab Louse is a common insect infestation of the human genital area. As the infestation becomes more profound, it can also extend into other parts of the body including the eyelids. 

The louse is approximately 1 cm in size, which makes it visible to the naked eye. It has 6 legs, 4 of which have prominent pincer-like claws – much like a crab, which it uses to attach to its host. The louse feeds off its host by biting and drawing blood from the area. The lifespan of the louse is between 3 – 4 weeks, during which time, the female louse can lay as many as 80 eggs or nits. 

How do you get them?

Sexual transmission is the most common mode of transmission of the louse. Once the area has become infested with the louse, the patient will soon experience itchiness in the area. Prolonged infestation generally results in bluish bite marks in the skin. The louse requires a warm area and blood to thrive, hence they do not remain on inorganic surfaces such as tabletops and toilet seats for long. This means you do not usually get an infestation by touching such areas. 

The most at risk population are teenagers and young adults. 

How to get rid of Crabs STDs (Pubic Lice)?

The current treatment for Pediculosis pubis infestation is by topical treatment to the affected area. The aim of these treatments are to eradicate both the adult louse and nits. Although cure rates are high, it generally takes a few sessions of topical treatments to achieve complete eradication.

How to avoid getting Crabs STDs (Pubic Lice)?

The best way to prevent yourself from getting an infestation is to avoid contact with the louse. If you find out that your partner has an infestation, ensure that you clear the environment of any adult louse and eggs. Wash all fabrics such as curtains, bedding, towels and clothes with a hot cycle and a strong disinfectant. In the event you do find that you have an infestation see your doctor immediately so that treatment can be started early.

Next read: PARASITIC STIS – SCABIES

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crabs stds

Also on this site: hiv screening

Common Medical Conditions That Are Asymptomatic

Signs and Symptoms are technical terms to describe the extent of disease in a patient. A sign is an effect of the disease that can be observed by another person or elicited through certain manoeuvres while a symptom is an effect that is experienced only by the patient. 

What does being asymptomatic mean?

Being “asymptomatic” is when the patient does have the disease but does not experience any effects of the disease. In this article, we will be discussing 5 diseases where patients are usually asymptomatic in the early stages of the disease but as the disease progresses, it adds an increased burden on the body leading to more pronounced signs and symptoms.

The 5 diseases were selected because while there is no way for patients to know if they have the disease early on due to the lack of symptoms these diseases can be easily detected during health screening with your General Practitioner. Therefore, we hope to highlight the importance of your health screening in allowing your doctor to detect these diseases early and prevent the disease from progressing to a more severe state.

So just before you brush off that health screening appointment because “I feel OK” , have a read to see the benefits or early detection and treatment.


5 Diseases where patients are asymptomatic

Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)

What it is?

HIV infection is a disease in which the virus attacks specific cells (CD4) in the immune system and uses the cells to create more copies of the virus, killing the host cells in the process. In the early stages of HIV, the rate of CD 4 cell production can still cope with the loss from the viral infection, therefore patients are mostly asymptomatic.

Over time as the virus replication picks up pace, the CD 4 cell numbers dwindle and the immune system becomes less effective in responding to environmental insults such as bacterial or fungal infections. Major risk factors for HIV infection include, IV drug use, unprotected casual sex and anal intercourse.

How do you test for it?

Point of Care testing can be done at most clinics in Singapore, this involves taking a sample of blood from a finger prick and placing it into a test kit. Currently, the earliest you can be tested for HIV is 30 days after infection. Early treatment of HIV prevents the virus from replicating and thus prevents the disease from worsening and progressing to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).
HIV Testing Singapore
Anonymous HIV Testing Singapore

Chlamydia

What it is?

Chlamydia is a common bacterial infection in both Men and Women. Infection is usually found in the genital tract but also in the rectum, throat and even eyes. Up to 70% of women and 50% of men are asymptomatic. Left untreated, the bacteria can replicate further to eventually lead to an inflammatory state in the pelvis. This results in severe discomfort and particularly in women the risk of infertility is especially raised if chlamydia is untreated.

How do you test for it?

Chalmydia Rapid testing can be carried out to detect the presence of Chalmydia within 24 hours. A sample is taken from the region, a vaginal swab for women and a urine sample for men, and a Polymerase Chain Reaction is used to detect any chlamydial genetic material. Treatment of chlamydia can be as simple as a single dose of antibiotics if detected at an early stage.
Rapid STD Testing Singapore

Chronic Illnesses

High cholesterol

What it is?

Cholesterol can be thought of in 2 forms, a high density form (HDL) and a low density form (LDL). HDL lowers the total cholesterol in the body while LDL increases it. An increase in cholesterol and triglycerides (both from fatty foods) results in plaques developing within your blood vessels (Atherosclerosis). As the plaques increase in size, blood flow to your vital organs like your heart and brain are compromised thus increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

How do you test for it?

A blood test usually done at your health screening enables your doctor to determine the cholesterol levels in your body. Not all elevated cholesterol has to be treated with  medications because changes in diet and lifestyle can also lower cholesterol in some cases. 

Hypertension

What it is?

Hypertension is when your blood pressure is persistently elevated, the normal blood pressure should be below 140 systolic and 90 diastolic. There are myriad of causes for elevated blood pressure including, high salt intake, stress or kidney disease.

However, many people have Essential hypertension, which is when the blood pressure is found to be elevated for no particular cause. Even though the cause may not be determined in most cases of hypertension, patients with an elevated blood pressure have a higher risk of strokes. This is because, the increased pressure in the blood adds additional strain to the blood vessels, eventually, the blood vessels become weaker and are more likely to break, resulting in a stroke.

How do you test for it?

The diagnosis of hypertension in an asymptomatic patient involves a Blood Pressure diary where the patient measures her blood pressure at the start and end of the day for 2 weeks. A persistently elevated blood pressure may prompt the doctor to start treatment, however there are also non-pharmacological means of lowering blood pressure.

Diabetes

What it is?

Diabetes, in particular Type 2 Diabetes, is a condition where the body is unable to regulate carbohydrate metabolism. This results in wide spread effects on the patient because sugar derived from carbohydrate metabolism is essential to many cellular activities in the body. Although patients are mostly asymptomatic in the early stages of the disease, patients can eventually have a variety of pathologies as the disease progresses such as loss of sensation in the hands and feet, poor wound healing, reduced immunity and even blindness.

How do you test for it?

Testing for diabetes also involves a blood test to measure the sugar levels in a fasting state to gauge the current level of sugar metabolism in your body and the Haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) which is a gauge of the long term extent of sugar metabolism in your body. Depending on the extent of your disease, treatment of diabetes can range of lifestyle modification to injectable medications.


Having a disease in its early stages sometimes means that you still feel “fine” and not experience any symptoms. However, if left untreated, these diseases can progress and lead to severe complications in your health. Getting checked regularly is essential for detecting disease in the asymptomatic phase and treating it early. This prevents the disease from progressing to a more severe state and allows us to lead better, healthier lives. Speak to your doctor today!


Other Asymptomatic Medical Conditions:

Also on this site: Wart Removal Singapore, STD Check Singapore

Parasitic STIs – Scabies

Scabies are one of the more uncommon STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) present in Singapore. As it is rarely seen in a clinic setting and the signs are often unremarkable, it can be easily missed by both patient and the doctor. So what exactly is scabies? We will talk about it in a little more detail and how it is relevant to you and your sexual health.

Scabies – The hidden itch

Scabies are not an infection, but an infestation of microscopic mites, Sarcoptes scabiei. These tiny eight-legged creatures live within the human skin. After mating, female mites will burrow through the epidermis causing skin damage and lay eggs within the burrows. Larvae, after hatching, will grow and continue the whole lifecycle. 

Signs and Symptoms

These burrowing caused by the mites do not actually cause pain, but the allergic reaction to the mites, faeces and eggs leads to an intense itching that is typically worse at night. The itching starts 3 to 6 weeks after initial infestation. 

The typical physical finding is a extremely itchy pimple-like rash in areas such as:

  • Between fingers
  • Armpits
  • Wrist
  • Elbow
  • Genitalia
  • Waist
  • Buttocks

The back and the head are typically spared, except in very young infants.

Another more serious variant is Norwegian Scabies. This happens in patients with compromised immune systems, for example patients with HIV, lymphoms or long term steroid use. The mites will form deep, scaly rashes which are highly infectious.

How does one get it?

Scabies can be spread through direct and prolonged skin to skin contact, for example between family members or sexual partners. Casual contact is highly unlikely to spread scabies. 

Scabies can also be spread through indirect contact. As the scabies mites can survive up to 36 hours off a host, they can be indirectly transmitted through sharing clothes, bedding, towels with an infected individual. 

To prevent scabies, avoid skin to skin contact with infected individuals and do not share clothes and bedding. Condoms are NOT useful in preventing transmission as scabies spread through direct contact and not through body fluids and secretions.

Treatment options

Thankfully, scabies can be treated. A topical preparation known as Permethrin can be applied as a single dose to the whole skin from scalp to toe. Commonly, a single application is sufficient for eradication of scabies. An antiparasitic agent known as Ivermectin can also be given orally for eradication with good effect. To prevent re-infection, all contaminated clothing and bedding should be thoroughly laundered with hot water.

In conclusion, if you find mysterious pimple-like rashes which are intensely itchy after an exposure, see your doctor for further advice! 

Next read: CRABS STDS – PUBIC LICE

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Neurosyphillis

Syphilis is a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) caused by the bacteria Treponema Pallidum. It is a systemic infection with a multitude of signs and symptoms depending on the stage of the infection. As such, syphilis is also known as “the Great Imitator” because the clinical presentation may appear similar to many other diseases.

There are four stages of infection: 

  1. Primary syphilis – painless ulcer (or chancre) at the site of infection
  2. Secondary syphilis – manifestations that include, but are not limited to, skin rash, mucocutaneous lesions, and lymph node swelling
  3. Latent syphilis – this stage can last for a number of years with few or no symptoms
  4. Tertiary syphilis  – gummatous lesions (soft, non-cancerous growths), neurological problems, or cardiac symptoms

In this article, we will focus on neurosyphilis. You can learn more about syphilis as an overall topic in a previous article:



What is Neurosyphilis?

Neurosyphilis occurs when the infection reaches the central nervous system i.e. the brain or spinal cord. Neurosyphilis can occur at any stage of infection, but tends to occur in tertiary syphilis. Therefore, neurosyphilis can occur within a few months, but could also develop after 10 to 30 years, of a syphilis infection. 

There are four different forms of neurosyphilis:

  1. Asymptomatic (most common form)
  2. Meningovascular
  3. General paresis (muscle weakness)
  4. Tabes dorsalis (slow degeneration of the neural tracts of the spinal cord)

Asymptomatic neurosyphilis occurs before symptomatic neurosyphilis. Early neurosyphilis affects the blood vessels and meninges (membranous coverings of the brain and spinal cord) whereas late neurosyphilis affects the brain and spinal cord itself.

Signs & Symptoms

Signs and symptoms vary widely depending on the form of neurosyphilis, including:

  • Stroke
  • Changes in personality
  • Dementia, mania, or paranoia 
  • Ataxia (loss of coordination of muscle movements, eg. leading to gait abnormality)
  • Ophthalmic symptoms (eg. blurred vision, reduced color perception)
  • Urinary symptoms (eg. bladder incontinence)
  • Headache
  • Giddiness
  • Hearing loss
  • Seizures 
  • Hyporeflexia 
  • Sensory impairment 

Risk Factors

The risk factors include: 

  • High risk sexual behaviour from unprotected sex and multiple sexual partners
  • Men who have sex with men
  • Recreational drug use

Diagnosis

Syphilis is diagnosed either via blood tests or direct visual inspection using dark field microscopy. In practice, blood tests are more commonly used as they are easier to perform.

To diagnose neurosyphilis specifically, cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), which is a fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord, is obtained via lumbar puncture and the Venereal Disease Research Laboratory (VDRL) test is performed on the CSF. 

Other laboratory investigations that may be performed include: cerebral angiogram, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the brain, brain stem or spinal cord.

Treatment

Syphilis is treated with intramuscular injection of the antibiotic benzathine benzylpenicillin. Early syphilis is treated with a single dose whereas late syphilis is treated with a once-weekly dose for 3 weeks. 

For neurosyphilis, however, the treatment course is different as penicillin penetrates the central nervous system poorly. Instead, the treatment requires intravenous penicillin every 4 hours for 10 to 14 days.

Generally, follow-up blood tests are performed at 3, 6, 12, 24, and 36 months to ensure the infection has fully resolved. Follow-up lumbar punctures for CSF analysis are performed every 6 months. 

Prevention

Neurosyphilis can be prevented with the following measures:

  • Safe sex practice, namely correct and consistent condom usage
  • Avoiding high risk sexual behaviour. Aside from abstaining from sexual contact, the surest way of avoiding STIs is to be in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is free of STIs
  • Regular STI screening and if syphilis has been detected, to receive early and prompt treatment
  • In the case of an individual diagnosed with a syphilis infection, prompt partner notification and treatment helps to reduce the risk of undetected syphilis

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Can I get an STD from a hand job?

This is a very common question that I get from patients who come to see me. Some are worried about contracting STDs when giving or receiving hand jobs or masturbation from another person. Generally speaking, there is very little risk of contracting STDs from a hand job.

Even though it is low risk, it is still not zero risk. Let me share with you some points about hand jobs and STDs.


You getting the hand job VS when you’re giving the hand job

Generally hand jobs have very low risk of transmission of STDs. However, if you give the hand job, you are at lower risk of getting an STD as compared to when receiving one. Why is that? STDs tend to affect genitals more than our hands. So if you are at the receiving end, it is your genitals that are at risk. If you are giving the hand job, it is less likely for you to get STDs unless you touch your own genitals after giving the hand job.


Type of STDs that might be transmitted through a hand job

Not all STDs are transmissible via handjobs. It is usually the ones that are passed on through skin to skin contact that are transmissible.

These include: 

  • Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV) Type 1 and 2. This usually causes painful sores or vesicles around the lips or genital areas. There is no cure for the virus but you can take antiviral medication when the symptoms appear to reduce the duration and severity of the symptoms.
  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV): This virus usually causes genital warts. Warts are flesh coloured growths on the skin. There is also no treatment to treat the virus but there are different types of treatment available to remove the warts when they appear.
  • Molluscum Contagiosum: This is causes by a virus that lives on the skin. It can also be spread via skin to skin contact. It appears as small firm bumps on the skin which are generally harmless and painless. They usually go away on its own or you can get it removed by a doctor through freezing or laser removal.

How can you prevent it? What is considered “safe sex”?

As how we advise for all STDs, abstinence is best. 

Avoid multiple partners. Keeping to one partner minimizes the risk of STDs.

Avoid high risk exposure from sex workers or those who work in massage parlours. These workers have high exposure to several people a day so you will be at higher risk.

Condoms: Condoms may provide some protection. However do take note that areas not covered by the condom is still at risk of STDs.


Get tested to be sure!

If you’re ever in doubt, or unsure of your risks and or symptoms, do seek medical advice. The doctor will be able to advise if you need to get tested or get treated.


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Anal Warts: What you have always wanted to know, but were too embarrassed to ask.

Anal warts are definitely not a topic for polite conversation. As an affliction upon one of the more intimate parts of the human body, patients frequently have multiple concerns regarding cosmetic appearance, stigmatization, personal health and sexual relationships. It is also not commonly brought up to their spouses or doctors. We are here to find out more about this extremely common condition and dispel common misconceptions about it.


What are Anal Warts?

Anal warts are common skin growth around or inside the anal canal caused by a virus known as the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). They come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from a small pinhead-like growth to big cauliflower-like lesions. They usually do not cause patients much pain or discomfort and patients might not be aware that anal warts are present because of the nature of the location


What is HPV and how is it spread?

HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the world. It is a family of viruses with more than 200 types. They are typically divided into low-risk and high-risk types based on associated risk for cancer in any body areas. The low-risk types HPV 6 and/or 11 are detected in around 90 percent of anal warts.

HPV is transmitted through contact with infected skin. Anal HPV infection is almost always acquired through sexual contact. Anal warts by themselves are not required for transmission but are highly infectious.


Common myths about anal warts

Myth #1 – My partner has anal warts, he/she is cheating on me!

This myth is responsible for a great deal of anxiety and anger. HPV infection can lie dormant in the body for months and years before causing anal warts. There is no way to find out when the infection was acquired. 

Myth #2 – Anal warts can lead to anal cancer.

Anal warts are almost always benign. They are caused by low-risk HPV types 6, 11, 42, 43 and 44 and do not develop into cancer. 

Myth #3 – HPV is incurable, and recurrence of anal warts are common.

It is indeed true that there is no known cure for HPV. However, warts and precancerous lesions can be easily treated when detected. Recurrence of anal warts is not a given, and some patients might find recurrence getting less frequent and eventually stopping with time. 

Myth #4 – Condoms use during sex will prevent HPV transmission

Unfortunately, that is not the case. Condom use will prevent transmission of pathogens such as HIV and syphilis that are spread through bodily fluids. They are not so effective against other pathogens such as herpes or HPV as they are spread through skin-to-skin contact. This is because condoms do not cover the entire external genitalia.

Nonetheless, condom use can still lower the risk of HPV transmission and other STDs. They still play an important role in sexual health and STDs prevention strategies. 


Diagnosis of anal warts

Diagnosis of anal warts is normally done at the doctor’s office clinically through a thorough history and physical examination. The majority of anal warts do not require a biopsy for diagnosis.

HPV screening for anal warts is not routinely recommended. This is because all commercial laboratories will only test for high-risk HPV types and not low-risk HPV types that causes anal warts.


Treatment

Anal warts treatment depends on the size, number, site as well as patient’s preference.

Home treatment with preparations such as Imiquimod cream or Podofilox solution are available. However, they are limited in utility due to the locations of the warts which might not be easily reached by the patient. 

Cryosurgery is the use of extremely low temperature through liquid nitrogen to destroy the abnormal anal wart cells. It can be done as an office procedure but will require multiple cycles for treatment depending on the size of the warts.

Radiofrequency ablation is a procedure in which heat, which is generated through an electric current, is used to destroy the abnormal anal wart cells. It can also be done as an office procedure. An injectable pain-killer is commonly given before the procedure to numb the area and commonly a single session will be sufficient for anal warts removal.

Finally, if the anal warts are too large or too extensive, surgical excision under general anasthesia might be considered by a surgeon. 


Prevention 

By observing safe sexual practices such as use of condoms during sex and limiting the number of sex partners, patients can reduce their chance of contracting HPV.

A vaccine (Gardasil 9) is available for males and females to prevent ano-genital warts but it will not treat existing HPV or ano-genital warts. This vaccine can prevent most cases of genital warts in persons who have not yet been exposed to wart-causing types of HPV.

Next read: WHY IS MY SEMEN GREEN OR YELLOW?

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Why you should not be embarrassed to get tested for HIV

Many people are still not getting regularly tested for HIV.

In my line of work as a Family Physician, I frequently assist patients in performing Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) screening. I would like to share a story of a patient I recently treated. 

40-year-old Melvin (not his real name) came by one day for a clinic consultation. His friendly and cheerful demeanour was accompanied with a mild level of anxiety. He shared with me his background: he was a gay man, in a monogamous relationship with a long term partner. Like many people, he had had several previous partners – past relationships, and the occasional casual fling. However, he had never undergone any screening tests to evaluate his sexual health. The last time he had been tested for HIV was over 20 years ago, when he enlisted for National Service.

“The honest truth is I am embarrassed and also fearful of seeing a doctor to do these tests. In fact, it took me a lot of courage to come to visit you today!”, said Melvin rather sheepishly.

“I have always had this avoidance mentality towards HIV. I felt that I would rather not get tested, and just live my life more peacefully. And really, what are the chances? I have always used condoms and compared to other people, I don’t think I have had many sex partners in my life,” he added.

He lets on further that it was after a lot of encouragement from his partner that he decided to bite the bullet and visit a clinic.

The news came as a complete shock to him – he had unfortunately tested positive for HIV. It took some time for him to come to terms with the result, and the fact that his life was never going to be exactly the same again. The silver lining was that Melvin was still in the early stages of the infection. He has since promptly started on treatment and is doing regular follow-up monitoring of his condition. The good news is that by doing so, he will likely be able to keep the virus in check and thus maintain a healthy immune system. 

Melvin’s case highlights a perennial problem in mankind’s fight against HIV. Despite continuous  efforts by health organisations to educate the public on HIV and increase awareness on the importance of regular screening, many people are still not getting regularly tested for HIV. It is estimated that 15% (1 in 7) of people in the United States are presently living with HIV and unaware that they have the infection. In an update on the HIV situation in Singapore earlier this year, the Ministry of Health (MOH) stated that only 14% of newly reported HIV cases in 2018 were detected by self-initiated, or voluntary, screening.


Common reasons that deter people from getting tested for HIV

1. I am scared of getting tested positive for HIV

Fear and anxiety are probably the biggest reasons why people avoid getting tested. The truth is, living in the unknown is worse and often scarier. It is far better to get the testing over and done with. If it is negative, it will bring much relief. If unfortunately the result is positive, all is not lost. Knowing your status early is the first step to getting support and receiving treatment in order to stay healthy. 

2. If I test positive for HIV, people will find out

Medical clinics and testing centres endeavour to keep all patient records strictly confidential. Under the Infectious Diseases Act in Singapore, a positive test for HIV is notifiable to the Ministry of Health (MOH). This is mainly for public health purposes, such as disease surveillance, monitoring the HIV infection situation, conducting contact tracing and assessing disease prevention and management measures. Healthcare professionals and MOH do not inform the patient’s employer, insurance provider and certainly not family and loved ones.

3. I am afraid of being judged or being embarrassed 

Healthcare professionals are trained to provide professional and non-judgmental consultation. If you do not wish to visit your regular doctor, take some time to do a search online as there are plenty of alternative options that you can consider. It is important to find a sexual health clinic or testing centre that you feel comfortable with. 

4. I trust my partner

If two HIV-negative people are in a monogamous relationship, then certainly there is no risk of HIV, but we are all human and no one is perfect. If one member slips up outside of the relationship, then both parties could be at risk of HIV, especially if engaging in unprotected sex. It is important to have open and honest communication with your partner. If you or your partner has had sex with any casual partner, or if there is any doubt about your HIV status, then do get tested.

5. I am not at risk of HIV

Even if you think that there is no chance that you have been exposed to HIV, as long as you are sexually active, it is recommended to do HIV testing at least once a year, or more frequently if your behaviour puts you at higher risk.

6. Who should test for HIV?

It is recommended by the United States Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that everyone between the ages of 13 to 64 should undergo HIV testing at least once as part of routine health care. However, if your behaviour still puts you at risk even after getting tested, you should consider getting tested again at some point later on. People who engage in higher risk activity should get tested regularly.

Also read: HIV SYMPTOMS – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW


If you answer ‘yes’ to any of the questions below, you should get an HIV test if not done recently:

  • Are you a man who has had sex with another man?
  • Have you had sex – anal or vaginal – with an HIV-positive partner?
  • Have you had more than one sex partner?
  • Have you injected drugs and shared needles or works (for example, water or cotton) with others?
  • Have you exchanged sex for drugs or money?
  • Have you been diagnosed with, or sought treatment for, another sexually transmitted disease?
  • Have you been diagnosed with or treated for hepatitis or tuberculosis?
  • Have you had sex with someone who could answer “yes” to any of the above questions or someone whose sexual history you don’t know?

What are some of the HIV tests available?

There are three types of HIV tests available. 

1. Nucleic Acid Test (NAT) 

Also known as an HIV viral load test, this test looks for the actual virus in the blood. If the result is positive, the test will also show the amount of virus present in the blood. NAT is very expensive and thus not routinely used to screen individuals unless they recently had a high-risk or possible exposure and there are early symptoms of HIV infection. NAT is usually considered accurate during the early stages of infection. However, it is best to get an antibody or antigen/antibody test at the same time to help in the interpretation of a negative NAT result. Taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) or post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) may also reduce the accuracy of NAT. (All our clinics provide HIV PrEP & PEP services.)

A NAT is able to detect HIV in the blood as early as 1 to 4 weeks (7 to 28 days) after infection.

2. Antigen/antibody test

Also known as a fourth-generation or combination test, this test looks for both HIV antibodies and antigens. Antibodies are produced by the immune system when one is exposed to bacteria or viruses like HIV. Antigens are foreign substances that cause the immune system to activate. In early HIV infection, an antigen called p24 is produced even before antibodies develop.

The fourth generation test is able to detect HIV in the blood 2 to 6 weeks (13 to 42 days) after infection, and is most accurate after a 28-day window period.

3. Antibody test

This is also known as a third-generation test. As mentioned before, antibodies are produced by the immune system upon exposure to bacteria or viruses like HIV. 

The antibody test is able to detect HIV in the blood in approximately 97% of people within 3 to 12 weeks (21 to 84 days) of infection. If a positive HIV result is obtained from any type of antibody test, a follow up test is required to confirm the result. 


What does the test involve?

In the clinic setting, all the tests are typically performed using blood samples. Laboratory testing can be performed for all three types of HIV tests, whereby blood is drawn from a vein and collected in a tube. Rapid testing is available for only the fourth-generation test and the antibody test, whereby a few drops of blood are obtained via finger prick, and the results are ready in 20 minutes. 

The rapid HIV antibody test can also be performed using oral fluids collected from the mouth and gums with a swab stick. Similarly, the results are ready in 20 minutes. This option is available in some clinics and community testing programs, such as Action for AIDS (AFA) Singapore. 

HIV Screening Singapore

Regardless of the test you choose, the process is simple and fuss-free, and no prior preparation is required – all you need to do is show up at the clinic. Pre and post-test counselling is always conducted professionally and non-judgmentally. 

Despite all this, there are many who still feel extremely self-cautious about approaching a doctor to discuss HIV testing, for fear of stigma and discrimination. This is where Anonymous HIV Test (AHT) comes in. AHT is offered as a means to encourage more individuals who suspect they might be at higher risk to step forward to do testing. There are only 10 clinics in Singapore that are licensed to offer AHT. AHT does not require any name, contact number or form of identification. Instead, a number is usually assigned to the patient for the purposes of providing the result later on. The patient is then required to fill up an anonymous questionnaire to provide some information on his/her sexual behaviour. When seeing the healthcare provider, he/she may be asked some further questions before undergoing the test. AHT is performed using rapid testing only. The entire process throughout is kept confidential and strictly anonymous, even if the test result is positive.  

Anonymous HIV Testing is available in our Robertson Walk Branch only.


What happens after the test?

If your healthcare provider uses a fourth-generation antigen/antibody test, you should get tested again 45 days after your most recent exposure. For other tests, you should test again at least 90 days after your most recent exposure to tell for sure if you have HIV.

If your last HIV test was negative, you can only be sure you are still negative if you have not had a potential HIV exposure since then. If you are sexually active, continue to take actions to prevent HIV, like using condoms the right way every time you have sex and taking PrEP if you are at high risk.

Please get tested if you have not done so recently!

The worst part about the prospect of HIV and/or AIDS is living in the unknown. Do not avoid getting tested simply out of fear. Understanding your health and having a solid plan to stay on top of it – regardless if you are HIV-positive or negative – is the best way to live a long and healthy life.

Next read: HIV WINDOW PERIOD – TIMELINES FOR ACCURATE HIV TESTING


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U=U: Science, Not Stigma

Sexual transmission of HIV can be stopped. While there are many barriers to ultimately reaching this goal, one of the most exciting and recently validated concepts resulting from large-scale studies is that of U=U, or Undetectable = Untransmissible.

U=U means that people living with HIV (PLHIV) with a suppressed/undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting the virus to their sexual partners. The landmark trial of HPTN 052, and subsequent PARTNER, and Opposites Attract studies showed that no linked HIV transmissions were detected between thousands of serodiscordant couples (where one partner is known HIV-positive and one is HIV-negative) as long as the viral load remained undetectable throughout the relationship. This was demonstrated for both heterosexual and homosexual couples, and the greater acceptance of the science has potentially vast implications for personal and public health, social and behavioural norms, and even legal matters.

In order for someone living with HIV to reach undetectable viral load, they will need to be on daily antiretroviral therapy (ART) for at least 3-6 months, and must continue on the medication to maintain viral suppression. Treatment as Prevention (TasP) has been strongly advocated for many years now by HIV specialists and other healthcare providers, but the science and messaging has finally caught up. And for PLHIV, growing awareness and acceptance of U=U will hopefully serve to reduce stigma and discrimination, as well as improve compliance to treatment and follow up.

In 2014, UNAIDS launched the 90-90-90 program which aims to diagnose 90% of all HIV-positive individuals, provide antiretroviral therapy to 90% of the people diagnosed and achieve viral suppression for 90% of those treated by 2020. Current estimates from the Ministry of Health are that only 72% of people living with HIV in Singapore know their status, out of which 89% are on treatment, with the proportion of people on treatment who had achieved viral suppression fairly high at 94%. While the latter two figures are encouraging, more needs to be done to improve HIV testing and diagnosis. Local data shows that only 23% of HIV cases are currently being detected via voluntary screening, while 41% of HIV cases are diagnosed in a late stage.

With over 6,000 people in Singapore currently diagnosed as living with HIV, this means that close to 2,500 are estimated to have the infection without knowing their status. With U=U being a reality, getting at-risk individuals tested and on treatment as early as possible is essential in our fight against HIV. For those who already know their HIV-positive status, there is now additional cause to adhere to ART, as doing so will protect potential future partners from potential transmission.

While U=U is great news overall, there are certain caveats we must remember. For U=U to be considered effective, PLHIV must have an undetectable viral load for a duration of at least 6 months on follow up. Furthermore, studies which have shown that over a quarter of HIV-positive gay and bisexual men in a serodiscordant relationship did not have an accurate understanding of their current viral load, with around 20% of men who believed they were undetectable actually having a detectable viral load. As such, regular condom use and testing is still strongly recommended, as is the wider uptake of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP). It’s also important to note that U=U only applies to HIV infection, so precautions should still be taken against other more common sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis.

U=U is a simple but important message based on a foundation of scientific evidence. The campaign makes a strong case for adherence to treatment and follow up, and allows PLHIV and the community to understand that they can live long, healthy lives, have children, and enjoy relationships without having to fear passing the infection to others. It will hopefully bring us a few steps closer to achieving the UNAIDS’ 90-90-90 target and help to reduce the stigma still faced by many living with HIV today.


Dr. Jonathan Ti is a GP at DTAP @ Robertson clinic. He has a special interest in sexual health and HIV, and is a co-author of the Community Blueprint to End HIV-transmission and AIDS in Singapore by 2030, and part of the National PrEP Taskforce.