2 min

Doctors alert for nasty new STD

Disease strikes gay men in Europe

An outbreak among gay men in Europe of a rare tropical STD – lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV) – has set off alarm bells that the disease will eventually surface in North America

The Centers For Disease Control in the US issued a warning last month stating the numbers reported in the recent outbreaks of LGV in Europe are low. Actual numbers could be much higher because the diagnosis is not straightforward, and some symptoms can be overlooked.

The Public Health Agency Of Canada issued a notification to all provinces and territories back in June, but so far there have been no cases reported in Canada, according to PHAC official Nathalie Lalonde.

LGV first causes small lesions on and around the genitals that may look like blisters. Blisters can occur inside the urethra and so go undetected. Secondary symptoms are more pronounced and include swollen lymph nodes, which can grow to the size of a lemon, and even possibly lead to elephantiasis.

Other symptoms include pain while urinating, fever, malaise and headaches. In some cases patients have developed gastrointestinal bleeding.

The disease first attracted attention in December 2003 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, when a cluster of cases was reported among men who have sex with men. As of September, 92 cases had been confirmed in Rotterdam.

More recently the European Surveillance Of Sexually Transmitted Infections reported 27 cases confirmed in Antwerp, Belgium, 38 cases in Paris and further reports of confirmed cases in Stockholm and Hamburg.

All the cases reported in Europe have been found in gay urban centres; most have been associated with men who frequented the leather and sex party scene.

LGV is caused by a type of chlamydia, endemic in Africa, Asia, South America and the Caribbean, but rare in Western Europe and North America. Officials say that anyone – especially anyone who has had gay sex in Europe recently – who has any urinary or rectal burning or discomfort, or even swelling in the groin, should bring up the possibility of LGV with a doctor.

Jane Greer, coordinator of Toronto’s Hassle Free Clinic, says there’s not a lot of information available.

“We’re not sure – I’m not anyway – if we thought somebody was presenting with that, what the test would be, what the markers are for a diagnosis.”

LGV can also make the transmission of bloodborne diseases such as HIV and hepatitis C much easier. Indeed most patients affected in Europe have been HIV-positive, and there were high rates of other sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea, syphilis, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

Tracing the spread of the illness has been difficult because most infected men are reporting multiple, anonymous partners.