Wood County faces syphilis outbreak

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) – Wood County is in the midst of a syphilis outbreak.

In response, the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department hosted a free screening event for syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis B and C at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church on Wednesday.

The Health Department’s Director of Clinical Services, Rebecca Eaton, said of the crisis: “We are trying to avoid this. We’ve been trying for several years now, but it’s going wild.

It is a disease that has been increasing in numbers in our region since 2018, according to Eaton. She said that over the past few years, Wood County’s numbers have nearly doubled every year.

“We treated up to eight patients in one day. Historically, syphilis – people thought it was gone,” Eaton said.

The disease can be spread through oral, anal or vaginal contact, according to the CDC. Syphilis can also be passed from a pregnant mother to her baby.

“If you are an intravenous drug user, definitely get tested regularly. If you use sex to get your drugs, get tested regularly,” Eaton said.

Syphilis is curable, however, it can cause significant harm if left untreated.

“Whatever organ it chooses to call home, it starts destroying itself. It destroys – if it goes to the brain, it destroys the brain. They can become psychotic,” Eaton explained.

Symptoms vary in different stages, however, one of the first symptoms is a painless lump anywhere on your body.

Eaton said: “Syphilis can be stopped at the stage in which we find it. We cannot undo the damage that has already been done to the body, but we can prevent it from getting worse…”

Syphilis numbers have also increased in Washington County, but not enough to be considered an epidemic. Still, a local health official warns it is a cause for concern.

Last year, Washington County saw six reported cases. So far this year, the region has seen five. That’s according to Haylea Hatten, STD HIV Program Coordinator for Portsmouth City Health Service.

Local health officials tell us that syphilis has increased in West Virginia and Ohio in recent years. However, it is not distributed evenly across all states. It has been more prevalent in specific areas.

According to Marietta/Belpre Health Department Nursing Director Dianna Beck, since 2019, Ohio has seen a 45.9% increase in adult cases and a 152% increase in babies born with it.

Eaton said: “We have had several babies born to HIV-positive mothers. They were treated immediately, but it can take up to five years for the babies to show symptoms…so the damage can be done and no one knows for a while.

For more information on syphilis, below is a link to CDC information.


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