Health Alert: Sudden increase in syphilis cases in Onondaga County

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ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — The Onondaga County Health Department released a health alert on Wednesday saying there’s a sharp increase in syphilis cases in the county this year. In just the first 3 months of 2021, Onondaga County has seen 28 cases, that’s the number of cases they had in all of 2020.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that is curable with antibiotics if it is detected early. It may not cause symptoms at first but could result in very serious illness if it’s left undiagnosed and untreated.

Health Commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta says, “While our focus is on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot forget other public health concerns in our community such as this recent rise in syphilis cases. This increase can impact not only individuals, but their partners and their unborn children if pregnant. In recent years we have seen an increase in the number of women diagnosed with syphilis.”

The disease is spread through direct contact with a syphilis sore. The health department says close skin-to-skin contact even with a condom may still result in syphilis since the condom may not fully cover exposed areas. It can also be spread through kissing if there are syphilis sores in the mouth or on the lips.

A pregnant woman with syphilis can spread it to her unborn baby, which can cause serious health problems and even death of the baby. If you are pregnant be sure to get tested.

Signs of syphilis can include:

  • Painless sore or ulcer in the mouth or genital areas
  • Generalized illness with fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and rash
  • More serious signs of syphilis can include meningitis or eye infections

The only way to know if you have syphilis is to get tested. Testing is recommended for all the following people:

  1. Men who have sex with men outside of a monogamous relationship
  2. People living with HIV
  3. Pregnant women
  4. People who engage in commercial sex work
  5. People who have anonymous sex partners, including through dating apps
  6. People attending sexually transmitted disease clinics
  7. Men less than age 25 who have been incarcerated in the last year

It is important for those with syphilis, and their partners, to be tested and treated immediately to avoid long-term complications.

Anyone who thinks they may have been exposed should call their healthcare provider.

If you do not have a healthcare provider, the Onondaga County Health Department’s STD Center is offering a syphilis clinic on four Thursdays, April 15, 22, 29, and May 6 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Appointments are required, please call 315-435-3236.

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