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Ask Ellie: Potential partners need to know about ex-wife's syphilis

Dear Ellie: I’m a man, mid-60s, and your daily reader. I’ve been divorced for two-and-a-half years, after 14 years married. I’ve since met a great woman, widowed, only a little younger than me and from the same background.

Dear Ellie: I’m a man, mid-60s, and your daily reader.

I’ve been divorced for two-and-a-half years, after 14 years married.

I’ve since met a great woman, widowed, only a little younger than me and from the same background.

My former wife tested positive for syphilis when she did the test for her citizenship process to move here. It seems that the syphilis was old and latent.

I tested and my results were then negative, and still are negative. This was the reason we separated for three years. Though we got back together, things weren’t the same between us.

She said she never knew about the test being positive but she refused to discuss some tests that can locate the actual time of infection. Finally, we parted.

My question: Should I inform this new woman about my ex’s positive test, or should I keep it to myself?

I don’t want to lose her.

Uncomfortable Choice

There can be no secrecy about syphilis, because it’s a very serious disease.

Instead of holding back and worrying that she’ll find out somehow, you must see your doctor and discuss what these tests meant then, and now.

Even if you are assured by a sexual-disease specialist that there’s no sign of future risk of syphilis, you should still inform this woman.

If willing, she should attend a further discussion with that doctor, of any chance of transmission from you or others close to you, now or later.

Some facts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (last reviewed April 12, 2022):

Syphilis is a sexually-transmitted disease (STD)… that can cause serious health effects without adequate treatment.

Primary stage — Syphilis spreads from person-to-person by direct contact with a syphilitic sore, known as a chancre. Chancres can occur in, on, or around the penis, vagina, anus, rectum, and lips or mouth. Syphilis can spread during vaginal, anal, or oral sex.

The average time between acquisition of syphilis and the start of the first symptom is 21 days (can range from 10 to 90 days).

Secondary Stage — Skin rashes and/or mucous membrane lesions (sores in the mouth, vagina, or anus) mark this stage which typically starts with a rash on one or more areas of the body.

Note: from the Cleveland Clinic re: Latent syphilis: If syphilis isn’t treated during the first two stages, the latent stage can last several years. Although there are no outward signs/symptoms of syphilis during this phase, the infection can damage your heart, bones, nerves and organs.

I grew up the youngest of two boys. My older brother acted as my second father. He taught me sports skills that were valuable. But two instructive “fathers” were one too many.

Now, 49, I feel this imbalance in my “family” life, even though, with a loving wife and three teenage daughters, my home situation’s very happy. But even at holidays like Thanksgiving, my brother’s “too busy” for a family get-together.

Our father died at 70. For me, that’s only 21 years from now. Am I experiencing mid-life anxieties because I lacked the family closeness I wanted as a youngster?

Too Late?

Your lifespan isn’t only determined by that of your father. Nor is your family life shadowed by your remote brother. You have a full house of love, laughter, and learning. Enjoy those gifts!

Meanwhile, if possible, don’t give up on occasional outreach to your brother. Perhaps, tickets to a sports event together?

Reader’s Commentary: More responses from readers and letter-writers sharing their personal stories of grief and steps to recovery, to support those now/still experiencing the effects:

“I’ve been widowed for six and a half years and want to let the man whose wife died two years ago to know there is hope and not to give up (June 10):

“I suggest looking up widow/widower meetup groups in your area. I was fortunate to find one in my region five years ago.

“It’s not strictly a bereavement group, but rather a group that has a shared experience. We all understand the loss of a partner and help each other through hard times when needed. It’s something our closest friends may not understand.

“The group I belong to has 130 members and we spend a lot of time laughing, and enjoying each other’s company at a wide variety of activities like dancing, movies, dining, playing cards, etc.!”

Ellie’s tip of the day

If there’s any possibility of transmitting syphilis, a potential sexual partner must be informed.

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