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Syphillis cases on the rise in Jackson County

MURPHYSBORO — Jackson County Health Department is seeing an alarming increase in syphilis cases, with a nearly double increase in cases from 2021 to 2022.

Paula Clark of Jackson County Health Department said they have seen cases increase since 2018.

In the last decade, there has been a marked resurgence of syphilis in the United States despite the availability of effective treatments and previously reliable prevention strategies. This is a national trend, according to Clark. Many other counties throughout the state are also seeing a rise in cases.

“When cases were first going up, we saw cases involving men who have sex with men,” Clark said. “That is not what we are seeing today.”

The biggest increase in cases is among women of childbearing age. Clark said that is coinciding with an increase in rise of syphilis cases at birth (congenital cases).

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For a disease that was thought to be nearly eradicated, the recent resurgence is alarming to public health officials.

“Syphilis is a very alarming neuropsychological condition,” Clark said.

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Untreated syphilis is associated with detrimental health outcomes, including potentially life-altering health consequences such as hearing loss, blindness, neurological complications and the increased risk of contracting other sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV.

Clark said cases of all sexually transmitted diseases are up.

Unlike other STDs, the early symptoms of syphilis seem to heal or clear on their own. However, the disease is still in the body.

Symptoms can begin with chancre or small sore where the syphilis entered the body. Many people have one sore, but several sores are possible. Other symptoms can be thrush, a rash on the body and flu-like symptoms.

After those heal, syphilis can lie dormant in the body for years. When it returns, it can cause life-altering symptoms, such as blindness or diminished mental capacity.

Clark said often the early symptoms are treated, but no one thinks to look for a reason the patient has those symptoms. Although syphilis was nearly eradicated, cases are rising at an alarming rate.

She said the best way to test for syphilis is a comprehensive test. That means doing a swab of all the areas that the disease can enter the body and performing a blood test. Generally, a swab is only done in the genital areas, but the disease can enter the body in other areas used for sex.

Clark said testing needs to done yearly as part of normal health care visit.

“Make a New Year’s resolution to take care of your body. Attach the date to your birthday or a holiday to make it part of your annual screening,” Clark said.

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A public health alert has been sent to local physicians and health clinics.

“This (syphilis) is out there and we need to be aware,” Clark said.

There are a few things everyone can do to help limit syphilis and other diseases spread through sex.

  • Reduce the number of sexual partners.
  • Know your partner’s background.
  • Use a condom.
  • Request comprehensive STD testing from your provider.

Jackson County Health Department offers services to reduce people’s risk of syphilis and HIV. These services include no-cost PrEP services, low-cost sexual health clinic, and for those with HIV, assisting them in the navigation of HIV medication and other supportive services.

Call Jackson County Health Department at (618) 684-3143, ext. 155 for more information or an appointment.

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