One of the most severe syphilis cases in years

When Ársæll Hjálmarsson went to see a doctor because of problems with his vision, he never imagined he would be diagnosed with one of the most severe cases of syphilis in recent years in Iceland.

Ársæll Hjálmarsson is sharing his experiences with syphilis to educate others in Iceland about the disease.

Syphilis has been on the rise in Iceland since 2014. And, with cases like Ársæll’s, some health professionals are sounding the alarm about a syphilis outbreak in the country.

But Ársæll is taking his diagnosis in stride. He’s sharing his experiences with syphilis to educate others in Iceland about the disease and to draw attention to gaps in Iceland’s sexual health framework.

“Rcently I asked the doctor if it was true that I’m one of the worst cases that they’ve seen, and she said this is one of the worst cases in a while because they’ve never had someone come in for an eye check and find out that it’s in their nervous system right away. Whether correct or not, it’s one of the most severe cases,” Ársæll tells me when I ask him about it and adds: “She said it’s rare that the syphilis reaches the central nervous system (neurosyphilis). People usually get treated before that happens. And she also thought that it was quite weird that I didn’t have any symptoms, except the headache.”

But what prompted him to go see a doctor in the first place? “After having headaches and the floaters in my vision for three or four weeks. Something I just thought was migraines. So I didn’t think it could be anything worse than that. But then I started to feel more pressure in my eyes, I became more light-sensitive, and I did not understand why the migraine was so stubborn. The pressure became so much that I couldn’t see and I had a black cloud over my right eye, so basically I could only see 20 per cent with that eye.

“The worst thing that I thought I could ever get was chlamydia. … I didn’t even know syphilis was a thing that was rising … There’s an outbreak, apparently.”

That’s when I went to the ER in (town) Keflavik to get it checked, and they couldn’t do anything. They just looked at me and said: ‘We don’t know what it is. Here, have painkillers and we’ll send you to the eye specialist at (hospital) Landspítalinn in Reykjavík’.”

So Ársæll went to an eye specialist in Reykjavík who came to the conclusion that things were not quite normal. Another specialist therefor took a look at him and he was the one who asked whether it might be possible that Ársæll had STIs? “And I said: ‘I don’t know, I haven’t been checked in a while’,” Ársæll recalls. “They said they thought it might be syphilis, and that I’d have to have a spinal fluid test done at (hospital) Borgarspítalinn. They said from there I would be hospitalized for ten days or up to fourteen days if they found out the syphilis had entered my central nervous system. Thirty minutes later they started pumping my veins with antibiotics.”

Is it normal for symptoms to take so long to appear and for it to affect your eyesight? “It’s a stage two and stage three symptom. And when it reaches your central nervous system that’s a stage three or four. And that’s really serious, because it could affect you later in life.

“The first thing I thought of was: I need to take responsibility for what I did. Now I have to contact everyone I’ve had sex with for the past twelve months, at least.”

Thankfully my eyes are getting better and getting back to where they were, but still there may be leftovers of the floaters. 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.”

What went through your mind when you found out you had neurosyphilis?

“The first thing I thought of was: I need to take responsibility for what I did. Now I have to contact everyone I’ve had sex with for the past twelve months, at least. But I went further, to eighteen months or two years, because I did not know when I got syphilis. I had not been checked since 2014.”

Do you have any idea how you got infected?

“Well, I’m allergic to latex. And finding latex-free condoms in Iceland is like finding a needle in a haystack. Why should I be jumping around every pharmacy looking for latex-free condoms? That’s just absurd. They should be available everywhere they have condoms.”

Why is it important for you to be so open about your experiences? “I don’t want anyone else to go through what I’m going through. 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.

“They say syphilis and gonorrhea are here to stay, because people are not being responsible in their sex lives. They’re … not protected when they have sex.”

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.”

Why do you think there’s an outbreak of syphilis right now? “They say syphilis and gonorrhea are here to stay, because people are not being responsible in their sex lives. They’re not getting checked regularly, they’re not protected when they have sex. Also, you can get syphilis from other ways than just having penetrative sex. You can get it from blowjobs, if you touch the person’s hives or sores.”

And you think there is not enough awareness about syphilis?

“There needs to be something, especially in the high schools where young people who are getting more sexually active need to be aware of the danger of skipping the condom,” says Ársæll.

“I’d like to see more posters or more advertisements saying ‘practice safe sex.’ I would like sex education in schools to be better. There needs to be something, especially in the high schools where young people who are getting more sexually active need to be aware of the danger of skipping the condom.”

Asked what his plans are after his treatment, Ársæll says that he’s going to organize a sex health/PrEP talk/Q&A drag show where he will tell his story and get other people to share their stories as well. “I’d like to get one of the disease specialists to come and talk about the diseases, how you get them and how it spreads. And then I want to have a petition to have latex-free condoms available everywhere they sell condoms in Iceland, that the price of condoms should be lowered, and that PrEP should be on the market sooner than they are planning.”

ABOUT SYPHILIS

What do symptoms look like?
Primary stage – Painless sores around the genitals and/or mouth
Secondary stage – Red or brown rashes on your hands and/or feet
Tertiary stage – Paralysis, numbness, blindness, heart disease (usually only after having untreated syphilis for several years)

How do you get syphilis?
Through oral, anal or vaginal sex with someone who has syphilis
If you are pregnant, you can pass on syphilis to your baby
You can pass on syphilis even if you don’t have any symptoms

How is syphilis treated?
With penicillin, an antibiotic
It is completely curable with treatment
However, if left untreated there can be lasting impacts

(Information from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis)

The Hamburger Factory
- gourmet burgers

Ok. You’re in Iceland. Most likely for the first time.

You will probably bathe in the Blue Lagoon and take a road trip to Gullfoss and
Geysir. That’s all well and good. But neither Geysir’s nor waterfalls are
something you eat. That’s why we have 15 brilliant and creative hamburgers at
The Hamburger Factory. And they are all perfectly square. Don’t miss out on
Iceland’s most beloved hamburgers.

The Hamburger Factory is Iceland’s most innovative gourmet burger chain.
Packed with burger-craving customers since it’s opening in 2010, among the
regulars is Iceland’s best known fisherman, Eric Clapton. In our restaurants we
welcome tourists with our newspaper like menu and smiley service. They are
packed with fun items and memorable connections to Icelandic pop culture.

Locations:

Omnom Chocolate
- award-winning chocolate maker

    Omnom Chocolate is an Icelandic craft chocolate company based in Reykjavík. We produce handcrafted chocolate from organic cacao beans sourced ethically and sustainably. We’ve developed direct relationships to create premium chocolate with fine flavor cacao beans.

    Our creative flavors are carefully crafted by meticulous chocolate makers. The cacao beans are roasted, winnowed, ground, and refined into melty-smooth chocolate.

    Omnom’s process is one of constant exploration, invention, and experimentation. If it doesn’t please us, if something isn’t absolutely delicious, there’s no reason to be doing it. So, we always start with our taste buds and follow our instincts. Our team searches for the finest ingredients in the world and new ways to improve chocolate. This obsession with knowing where our ingredients come from has led us around the corner to dairy farms in the Icelandic countryside and all the way to rainforest cacao farms of Nicaragua.

    In only a few short years, we’ve grown from our 50 sq. m. petrol station space and become an award-winning chocolate maker. Now, with our headquarters in 101 Reykjavík, our chocolate is sent out around Iceland and all over the world.

    At the end of the day, our goal is to make chocolate.

     

    Alfred’s Apartments
    - gay owned an operated

      Alfred’s Apartments and Alfred’s Studios is a gay operated and owned accommodation in the heart of Reykjavik.

      Alfred’s Apartments offers spacious apartments at a good price located just around the corner from Laugavegur shopping street. You can choose the apartment starting from a Small Studio for 2 persons to a large One-bedroom Apartment with balcony for 5 persons.

      Their staff will ensure your comfort during the stay and provide the most updated information about the city, gay and night life in Reykjavik.

      Each apartment has a private bathroom with a shower, fully equipped kitchen and free Wi-Fi. Guests can buy groceries at the local grocery store 50 meters from the apartments. Because of their very central location, numerous shops, restaurants and cafés are available in the surrounding area. The Church of Hallgrimur is located 350 m from the apartments, a tourist agency is just 50 m away and the nearest gay bar is less than 5 minutes walking distance.

      Laekur hostel
      In the hostel we have dorms for 4-8 persons with shared kitchen and bathroom facilities. The rooms are furnished with free internet, lockers, and a USB charger by each bed. The beds have linen provided and you can rent a towel in the cafe on the ground floor for 5 EUR.

      All the dorms are mixed with both genders. You can also book a whole room with 4-8 bunker beds.

      Blue Lagoon
      - a world of wonder

      Named by National Geographic as one of the 25 Wonders of the World, the Blue Lagoon is a shimmering expanse of warmth, relaxation, and rejuvenation. Its unique geothermal seawater comes from 2000 meters within the earth where sea and fresh water converge in a tectonic frontier of porous lava and searing heat. Propelled by extreme pressure, the water ascends to the earth’s surface, emerging enriched with silica, algae, and minerals: the elements that endow Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater with its radiant, healing properties.

      From its humble beginnings in the shadows of a geothermal power plant, Blue Lagoon has evolved into a world of wonder, now encompassing a hotel, a restaurant, a luxury lounge, a renowned line of skin care, a research center, in-water massage, and a wealth of spa and refreshment facilities.

      Achieving harmony with the volcanic landscape of Iceland’s Reykjanes lava plain, the lagoon and its surrounding architecture embody the unification of the man-made and the natural, and adhere to the highest principles of sustainability.

      Blue Lagoon. A wonder of the world. A world of wonder.

      Whales of Iceland
      - larger than life

      Whales of Iceland is the largest whale exhibition in Europe (and perhaps even the world), where guests can learn about the giants of the sea in a calm and modern environment. The permanent exhibition features whales like guests have never seen them before. It is truly a giant experience.

      Landsbankinn
      - leading financial institution

      Landsbankinn is a leading Icelandic financial institution. It offers a full range of financial services and is the market leader in the Icelandic financial service sector with the largest branch network.

      The present bank was established on 7 October 2008 but the history of its predecessor dates back to 1886. The bank is owned by the National Treasury of Iceland, which holds 98.2% of its share capital, and other shareholders who own 1.8%.

      Landsbankinn’s strategy is to provide comprehensive financial services that meet customer’s needs. It emphasizes providing exemplary service to customers, developing e-banking for their convenience, increasing the efficiency of support functions, modernizing its technology and ensuring effective utilization of its balance sheet.

      The bank’s vision is to be exemplary and its role is to be a trusted financial partner.

      Special emphasis is placed on promoting a performance-oriented culture in the bank. To follow up on the implementation of this strategy, the bank has defined key goals which are measured regularly to determine progress. These goals include, for example, customer satisfaction and loyalty, profitability, cost efficiency and the correlation between risk appetite and employee satisfaction.

      Landsbankinn wishes to lead the development of a sustainable society in Iceland by integrating economic, social and environmental concerns in its operations. The Bank aims to ensure that both its owners and society at large benefit from its activities.

      It intends to achieve this aim by building solid infrastructure and a strong team of 1.100 employees, by listening to its customers and by respecting and encouraging its employees to actively participate in their community. Landsbankinn was a founding member of Festa, a Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility, and is a member of the UN Global Compact.

      Landsbankinn has been a proud sponsor of the Reykjavik Pride since it was first celebrated in Iceland.

      Dohop
      - get inspired

      Dohop allows people to find the cheapest flights available with just one click. Founded in Reykjavik in 2004, it is the only Icelandic company of its kind and quickly became the go-to tool for finding cheap flights among the locals. Dohop finds the best deals among hundreds of different airlines and online travel agencies, to make sure that the user is getting the cheapest price. Dohop also offers hotel and car rental search engines, so users can make all of their travel bookings from a single website.

      Dohop‘s specialty is finding so-called “self-connect” flight options, which can save travelers money by booking a ticket through two or more different airlines. The ability to look for these self-connect option is what sets Dohop apart from its competition, as it can save people hundreds of dollars on certain routes.

      More recently, Dohop has developed a unique product called Dohop Go!, which allows users to check for the cheapest available flights from their home airport. This tool is perfect for those who are looking for travel inspiration but are not willing to overpay for their flight ticket. Dohop Go! is now available in the Dohop Flights App, both for Android and iOS, along with its traditional flight, hotel, and car search engines. “

      Macland
      - for all your Apple needs

      From starting out as a proper startup with only a good idea and the need to change things, to becoming an established company with 6 employees. Starting from scratch and expanding organically has allowed us to love our expansion and take our customers on the ride with us.

      Macland is located at Laugavegur 23 (101, Downtown Reykjavik)
      For all your Apple needs. We are here.

      Aurora Reykjavik
      - northern lights center

        Aurora Reykjavik is a Northern Lights Center situated in downtown Reykjavík at the Old Harbor next to Icelandair Hotel Marina and Vikin Maritime Museum.

        Aurora Reykjavík is Iceland’s first educational and recreational Northern Lights Center where multimedia is used to explain when, why and how the Northern Lights work, with the highlights being large HD projection of the Aurora’s. We also share myths and legends about what our ancestor thought about those mystical lights.

        The Northern Lights Center is for all ages. Children are our favorite guests and we created the exhibition in a way that children can have a look freely and parents don’t have to worry about things being broken.

        Aurora Reykjavik offers a great selection of souvenirs that are designed and made by Icelanders along with nice little coffee corner, where you can enjoy free coffee and tea while browsing through the souvenirs or just planning your next step.

        Contact Aurora

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        Ísey skyr
        - once tasted never forgotten

        Our Story
        Once upon a time, 1,100 years ago in fact, Nordic settlers began arriving in Iceland. They brought with them the skills and knowledge for producing skyr. As time passed, the know-how and recipe for this nutritious food slowly faded out elsewhere in the Nordic region. Luckily, the Icelandic skyr-making tradition continued.

        For centuries, Icelandic skyr formed a cornerstone of the national diet, helping to keep people strong in living conditions that were often harsh. On family farms countrywide, it was the women who nurtured this dairy and passing on both the recipe and the original Icelandic skyr cultures from mother to daughter.

        Ísey skyr builds on this remarkable legacy. It was some of those very same women, the recipients of their mothers’ expertise, who, around 90 years ago, taught Icelandic dairy scientists the art of skyr-making. The production process is more high-tech these days, and the quality standards more rigorous. However, the basic recipe and the use of original cultures to ferment the skimmed milk remain the same. Protein rich, fat-free, creamy and delicious – Ísey skyr is as relevant to consumers now as it was all those centuries ago.
        This is our secret and you are in on it

        You can read more about Ísey skyr on our website.

        Núðluskálin
        - noodle bar

        Núðluskálin is a small gay owned and operated fusion noodle bar.

        All of our courses are individually made from fresh ingredients and therefore highly customisable.
        We offer fully Vegan versions of all courses.
        Though originally a take-away we now seat over 30 people.

        Núðluskálin is located right in the heart of Reykjavík on Skólavörðustígur 8 (street leading up to the big Church) near the junction with Laugavegur (main street).

        Seatours
        - adventure cruise

        Ferry Baldur – the gate to the West fjords
        and VikingSushi Adventure – Bird & Nature watching Tour for everyone all year around

        The “VikingSushi Adventure” is the right boat tour for travelers who are adventurous and want to experience something new – close up to the nature seafood simply doesn’t come fresher than this! The archipelago area of the Breidafjordur Bay always surprises her visitors during winter or summer with spectacular sights. Where else you get to try delicious fresh scallops and sea urchin roe straight from the ocean served with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger.

        600x400-seatours-tasting

        This old volcanic area, characterized by the typical basalt formations of the islands, is the home of countless birds. Here you will also find the strongest currents in Iceland. The VikingSushi Tour takes roughly two hours and our captain is also the tour guide.

        600x400-seatours

        The VikingSushi Tour is a true adventure through incredible nature which should not be missed by any traveler to West Iceland.

        Birds, possible to spot:
        -puffins (from the middle of April until the middle of August)
        -eider ducks
        -shags
        -kittiwakes
        -fulmars
        -white-tailed eagle

        The car ferry Baldur is the bridge to the West fjords via the island Flatey
        Ferry Baldur crosses Breidafjordur Bay daily from Stykkisholmur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula to Brjanslaekur in the north. A ferry ride considerably shortens the route between the south and mid-west of the country and the West Fjords region. It also gives you the opportunity to experience a floating restaurant.

        Take a stopover at the charming island Flatey when you are crossing the bay or go to a day tour to Flatey and back to Stykkishólmur. At Flatey are no cars allowed and between the houses of the 18th century you get the feeling of a journey back in time.

        Contact Us


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