Syphilis on the rise in Pierce, nearly double in Washington


Syphilis rates in Washington state have nearly doubled this year and are on the rise, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

Transmission of sexually transmitted infections is increasing among suspected heterosexuals, according to a Friday July 23 notice from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department to health care providers. The advisory asked providers to test all pregnant women for syphilis at their first antenatal visit.

Syphilis is caused by the bacteria Treponema pallidum. Primary and secondary symptoms of syphilis include painless lesions, rashes, and flu-like symptoms, according to the state Department of Health. Untreated syphilis can cause internal organ damage, dementia, hearing loss and blindness, according to a fact sheet from the state’s health department.

Preliminary data show an incidence of early infectious syphilis rates of 35.1 cases per 100,000 people for 2021, up from 19.4 cases per 100,000 people in 2020. This increase is significant over previous years. The rate in 2019 was 11 cases per 100,000 people, according to data from the advisory and health service.

The rate of syphilis among black residents of Washington state has tripled this year, compared to 2020, according to the advisory.

An increase in congenital syphilis, which occurs when a mother with syphilis passes the infection to her baby during pregnancy, is expected to reach an all-time high this year in Washington, according to Kristen Maki, spokesperson for the Department of Health of the United States. the state. Congenital syphilis rates are on the rise, from six cases in 2017 and 2018 to 17 cases in 2019, including four stillbirths, Maki said. Last year saw a decrease to 10 cases due to delayed medical care during the COVID-19 pandemic, Maki said, but by early August 2021 there had been more than 17 reported cases.

Congenital syphilis can cause miscarriage, neonatal death, premature labor and long-term health problems in the affected child, the advisory says.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Department of Health issued a previous advisory in February on the increase in syphilis cases among people presumed to be heterosexual, according to the county health department.

Locally, rates of syphilis in Pierce County have fallen from 30.8 cases per 100,000 people in 2020 to 50 cases per 100,000 in the first six months of this year, according to the Tacoma County Department of Health. -Pierce.

Black residents of Pierce County have seen the largest increase in transmission rates – increasing by more than 136% in the first six months of 2021 compared to all of 2020, according to data from the Department of Health. The average infection rate in 2021 for residents of Black Pierce County is 149.1 cases per 100,000, the data shows.

Providers have also seen a local increase in congenital syphilis, according to the county health department. From 2016 to 2020, the average rate of congenital syphilis was 2.4 cases per year. From January to May of this year, six cases were reported, according to the data.

Syphilis rates in Washington have increased every year since 2013, according to the state’s health department.

Healthcare providers have also been asked to test others when they come for treatment, including in emergency departments. These people are:

Sexually active and homeless.

Trade sex for money or drugs.

Use methamphetamine, heroin, or cocaine.

Report sexual exposure to someone with syphilis, even if there are no signs or symptoms of infection.

More information and resources can be found online at the state health department website or the Tacoma-Pierce County health department website.

Journalist Denver Pratt joined the Bellingham Herald in 2017 and covers courts and criminal and social justice. She has worked in Montana, Florida and Virginia.

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