JACKSON, Miss. – Syphilis rates are on the rise both in Mississippi and throughout the United States, with the number of cases steadily increasing for the past 15 or more years.
Nationally, there was a reported 18 percent increase in cases of early syphilis from 2015 to 2016, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Mississippi, the cases increased by 32 percent for the same time period.
“We want to make sure providers and the public are aware that we have seen recent increases in syphilis in Mississippi,” said Dr. Paul Byers, State Epidemiologist for the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH). “Persons infected with syphilis may not have obvious symptoms, so screening for infection and appropriate treatment are essential. Persons at higher risk for syphilis and all pregnant women should be screened for infection routinely and treated with antibiotics when infection is identified.”
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. It spreads mainly by sexual contact, but may also be transmitted by infected mothers to their unborn children. If left untreated, syphilis can lead to nervous system disorders such as blindness, insanity or paralysis.
For 2016, most of the 822 cases of early syphilis reported in Mississippi occurred in men, and of the male cases, 70 percent were in men who have sex with men. Individuals aged 20-29 years accounted for 52 percent of all cases reported in Mississippi, and 36 percent of the total cases in this age group were in African American men.
Among cases reported in 2016, HIV co-infection was seen in 36 percent of patients. A person who has syphilis is three to five time more likely to be infected with and pass on HIV to partners.
The concern over this increase of syphilis is the focus of STD Awareness Month in April. In recognition of this effort, MSDH officials have joined with longtime Mississippi Board of Health member Dr. Lucius Lampton in publishing “The Top 10 Facts You Need to Know about the Reemergence of Syphilis” in the April issue of the Journal of the Mississippi State Medical Association.
“This has been an important collaboration, as this disease has reemerged as a modern public health threat,” said Dr. Byers. “We also encourage healthcare providers to routinely take a complete sexual history and discuss high risk behaviors with all patients. Don’t make assumptions about who you think is at risk and who isn’t.”
Testing for syphilis and other sexually transmitted disease is free and confidential by appointment at any county health department.
For more information on the MSMA Journal collaboration, visit https://www.msmaonline.com.
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