Madison County Experiences Staggering 90% Increase in Syphilis Cases

The Alabama Department of Public Health has issued a health advisory in an attempt to increase awareness and prevention efforts in Madison County after seeing a dramatic increase in reported syphilis cases since last year.

Due to a staggering increase in syphilis cases in Madison County, the Alabama Department of Public Health has issued a health advisory this week in an effort to increase awareness and prevention efforts. Health officials report 54 new cases of syphilis in Madison County so far this year, which is a more than 90% increase in the number of primary and secondary cases reported in the county in 2015.

In the advisory, assistant state health officer, Scott Harris, MD, said, “Most sexually transmitted disease cases continue to go undiagnosed and untreated. We are especially concerned about the resurgence of congenital syphilis, and syphilis and gonorrhea increases among men who have sex with men.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), overall, there were 74,702 new, reported cases of syphilis last year, showing that syphilis continues to remain a public health concern despite the fact that it can potentially be cured with the use of antibiotics.

Although there are a number of syphilis stages—primary, secondary, latent, and late—the primary and secondary stages are arguably the most worrisome due to the fact that it is within these stages that syphilis can be transmitted to others. The most common avenues of transmission are through sexual contact with a syphilis sore or from a pregnant mother to her child while in the womb.

Although symptoms—typically in the form of sores or a rash—are known to present within 21 days of acquiring the infection, it can take up to 90 days for symptoms to present, if they do at all, according to the CDC. In addition, syphilis has been dubbed “The Great Pretender,” due to the fact that many times symptoms of infection can mimic those of a number of other diseases. This makes it harder for individuals who have the infection to know they are infected without being tested. Because individuals do not often know they are infected, they can unknowingly transmit the infection to others.

Left untreated, syphilis can develop into serious health isues such as neurologic problems, heart problems, or even blindness. Pregnant women who are at high risk for syphilis should be tested throughout pregnancy and at delivery; those who test positive should receive a thorough examination seeking any evidence of congenital syphilis. According to the CDC, 40% of untreated cases result in infant death if left untreated.

According to the CDC, safe sexual practices—using condoms and using them correctly—will reduce the risk of transmission; however, if a sore lies outside of the condom coverage, transmission can still occur. Another preventive measure is to remain in a long-term monogamous relationship with someone who has been tested for sexually-transmitted infections with negative results. The last preventive measure, would, of course, be sexual abstinence.

The Alabama Department of Public health is currently taking action through the implementation of a program consisting of increased screening and outreach efforts to groups that are at increased risk of acquiring syphilis. With the assistance of medical staff and disease interventionists, they hope to dramatically reduce the number of syphilis cases.