Syphilis cases up 75% in Iowa
Cases of syphilis are on the rise in Iowa.
Preliminary data shows a 75% increase in syphilis cases from 2020 to 2021, said George Walton, head of the sexually transmitted disease program at the Iowa Department of Public Health.
Walton said cases of syphilis are increasing amid different demographics than where the disease typically presents itself.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of syphilis cases in the United States involve men who have sex with men. In the state, Walton said there have been more diagnoses of syphilis among women.
“We have seen an increase in more people who are diagnosed with self-report that they use drugs, so that’s probably a factor as well,” Walton said. “But I would say that there isn’t a single population or a single factor contributing by itself to the increase – it seems to be a combination of factors.”
Syphilis can be cured with antibiotic treatment, according to the CDC. However, if the disease is not discovered and diagnosed before it progresses, it can affect the heart, blood vessels, brain, and nervous system.
Although data for 2021 is not yet available, there were 140 more cases of syphilis in Iowa in 2020 than in 2019, according to state surveillance data.
In 2020, more than 80% of syphilis cases in the state were in men.
Walton said national data for STD rates in 2020 and 2021 has yet to be released, but anecdotally, cases appear to be increasing nationwide.
“My colleagues and I across the country are speaking, and everyone I have spoken with in other states is seeing an increase, especially in syphilis,” he said. “It’s very visible, but the rate of increase here in Iowa seems to stand out a bit more.”
Cases of congenital syphilis, when the disease is passed from a pregnant person to their fetus, have also increased dramatically this year, Walton said.
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“The increases we’ve seen this year in Iowa for that have been historic, to be honest about it,” Walton said. “We’ll end the year with at least 10 that fit the case definition, which may not sound like a lot, but just to put that in perspective, last year we had one, and in 2013 we had one.” three, and that was a large, high number. So having 10 in a single year is important.
Cases of congenital syphilis have also increased nationwide, according to the CDC. In 2020, more than 2,000 cases were reported, the highest level since 1994.
Kathryn Edel, a health educator for Johnson County public health, said syphilis cases had also increased in the county.
Johnson County Public Health offers a rapid syphilis test, which is now available to anyone who wants to get tested, Edel said.
“Previously, we could only offer a rapid test for syphilis to selected people, so people who had symptoms or had potential exposure,” she said. “Now we are able to open this eligibility requirement and offer the syphilis test to everyone, and that’s because of what our state is experiencing in terms of syphilis rates.”
Johnson County Public Health is making walk-in appointments for STD testing, Edel said, adding that the testing program is free and does not require ID or insurance.
“So now would be a great time to get tested for syphilis,” she said.
Rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea, other sexually transmitted diseases, have also increased in the state, with gonorrhea rates having doubled in the past five years, along with chlamydia, Walton said.
“We usually see an increase in the number of chlamydia every year,” he said. “This is the one that is very often asymptomatic, so we often say that the more successful you test, the more individuals you will diagnose.”
Walton said the Department of Public Health was encouraging more routine testing for the disease.
The CDC’s current guidelines for syphilis screening state that anyone with symptoms of syphilis or a partner who has recently been diagnosed with the disease should be tested, in addition to routine testing for pregnant women and men with sex with men.
“As we’ve seen increases in Iowa and we’ve seen increases in other parts of the United States, we’re trying to promote and encourage more testing because… there are additional populations that don’t. weren’t as affected in the past as they are affected now, “Walton said.” Basically we’re trying to promote that it’s more of a routine test for sexually active people. “