Paul Tuns
The Interim

(Editor’s Note: There are graphic descriptions of the effects of the disease and the behaviour that spreads it. Readers are warned to use discretion before proceeding.)

A potentially deadly type of chlamydia rife in Africa, Asia and South America has made its way to North America through Europe. The Public Health Agency of Canada has reported 22 cases of lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV), a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to deformed genitals, inflammation of the brain and sometimes, death.

While it is estimated that there are “hundreds of thousands” of LGV cases in the developing world, it is rare in Europe and North America. The potentially deadly STD, spread mostly among gay men, surfaced in the Netherlands in 2003 and the particular genetic strain of the disease discovered in Canada can be traced to the Dutch cases. Public health agencies figure that sex tourists visiting the red light district in Amsterdam helped spread the disease to Belgium, France, Germany, Spain and Britain, before it made its way to the United States and Canada.

LVG can lead to inflamed and swollen lymph glands that can leak and bleed. These genital lesions make it easier for men to acquire other STDs such as HIV, syphillis and hepatitis C. Indeed, Dr. Tom Wong, director of community acquired infections at the Public Health Agency of Canada, says that eight of the 22 men who have LGV also have HIV and three have hepatitis C.

If left untreated, LVG can cause scarring and deformation of the genitals and rectum, and, in rare cases, can lead to meningitis (swelling of the lining of the brain), encephalitis (swelling of the brain) and death.

Wong said that LVG is both preventable and treatable, but added that it is “an important public health and clinical challenge.” He said that widespread misinformation about AIDS and HIV, such as the notion that they are treatable, have led to dangerous sexual practices being resumed and he urged greater use of condoms. He blamed “safer sex fatigue” for the outbreak of LVG. (Rates for other STDs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphillis, have risen in recent years.)

The Globe and Mail reported that most of people infected in Canada with LVG could not “identify their recent sexual partners.” The report continued: “Virtually all the men engaged in ‘internet partnering,’ frequented bathhouses or had sex at rave parties, according to the study. Half of the infected practised ‘barebacking’ – anal sex without a condom. They also engaged in ‘booty bumping’ – ingesting the drug crystal meth anally – and in fisting.” Specifically, according to the study by Wong and his colleague Rhonda Kropp, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, at least four LVG-infected men reported having sex in bath houses and five reported meeting sexual partners over the internet.