An Icelandic man has been diagnosed with neurosyphilis, or syphilis in the advanced stages, and is now speaking out in the hopes of raising awareness.
Ársæll Hjálmarsson originally went to the doctor due to headaches and “floaters” in his vision over the previous three or four weeks, Gay Iceland reports. When his condition worsened, with pressure building in his eyes and a large portion of his vision blocked out, he went to the emergency room in Keflavík. They prescribed painkillers, which had little effect.
It was not until he met with a specialist at the Reykjavík city hospital that the possibility of syphilis was raised. He was admitted, “pumped with antibiotics”, and is only now beginning to recover.
“Thankfully my eyes are getting better and getting back to where they were, but still there may be leftovers of the floaters,” he told Gay Iceland. “And there can be an effect on your mental health as well. It can turn you mentally ill for the long-term. That’s why they took really seriously the fact that it was in my eyes and later in my central nervous system.”
Ársæll says the diagnosis prompted him to reach out to previous partners. He is speaking out now in the hopes of making a difference.
“I don’t want anyone else to go through what I’m going through,” he says. “That’s basically the reason why. Young gays are careless, and they think that if someone says they’re on PrEP or that they got checked a month ago that it’s okay to have unprotected sex. Which it’s not, because PrEP is only for HIV and not other diseases. And I knew that, but still I had unprotected sex a lot. The worst thing that I thought I could ever get was chlamydia. I never thought I would get syphilis. I didn’t even know syphilis was a thing that was rising and becoming such a big deal in Iceland. There’s an outbreak, apparently.”
In fact, syphilis has been on the rise in Iceland since 2014, and the symptoms can be hard to detect. The Grapevine encourages readers to always practice safe sex, and to get tested regularly.