Houston’s Health Department is warning women in the city and the surrounding areas after reporting a 128 percent spike in syphilis cases among females since 2019.
Health officials also reported a ninefold increase in congenital cases, according to a press release on Thursday (Jul. 13). Congenital syphilis is when the disease is passed from a pregnant mother to her child in the womb, CNN reports.
RELATED: CDC: STD Epidemic In U.S. Is ‘Out Of Control,’ With Syphilis, HIV On The Rise And 1.6M Cases Of Chlamydia Reported Last Year Alone
Health Department Waiving All Fees For STD Testing In Light Of Spike In Syphilis Cases Among Women
If left untreated, congenital syphilis can cause stillbirth or a newborn’s death soon after birth.
There were 674 cases of syphilis among women in 2022, compared to just 295 cases in 2019. And there were 151 cases of congenital syphilis in 2021, compared to just 16 cases in 2016, per the health department.
In response, the health department is waiving all fees for sexually transmitted infection testing at its health centers, per the release. Those testing centers can be found here.
What Is Syphilis? What Are The Symptoms, Cures, And Who Is At Risk?
Syphilis is a bacterial infection that’s typically spread via sexual contact. It causes painless sores, increasing the risk of HIV infection.
Secondary symptoms include “fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches, and fatigue,” the press release reads.
The National Institute of Health found that nationwide, syphilis diagnosis rates were 6.42 and 2.20 times higher among Black and Hispanic heterosexually active women, compared to white heterosexually active women.
The highest rates and largest disparities were among women aged 18 to 24 and 25 to 29, the agency reports.
The infection is “easily” treatable with antibiotics if caught early enough, according to the Houston Health Department.
However, it tends to go undetected due to the symptoms being misinterpreted. Therefore, it often goes undetected by those infected, the press release states.
Without treatment, syphilis can lie dormant in the body for years, sometimes even decades.
Over time, the infection can cause blindness, deafness, and even death if left untreated.
Thing with syphilis it presents as other conditions until you have a blood test – that’s why its called the Great Pretender.
— O.G. Botanist Johnson (@Thugg_Speedman) July 17, 2023
Syphilis, Chlamydia, And Gonorrhea Infections Spike Nationwide, Per CDC
Last year, The Shade Room reported a 26 percent spike in new syphilis infections nationwide in 2021. That made for the highest levels since 1991 and the most total cases since 1948.
In 2021 alone, there were 1.6 million cases of chlamydia reported, almost 700,000 cases of gonorrhea, over 171,000 cases of syphilis, and 2,677 cases of syphilis among newborns, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The spike in cases came despite the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, congenital syphilis has continued to spike across the country. The highest concentration is found in the South and Southwest United States, a CDC official told CNN earlier this year.
There’s been a nationwide increase of 700 percent in infected newborns throughout the last decade. And the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic did little to mitigate the spread of STIs, according to the CDC.
Health experts blame a shortage of qualified doctors and a lack of funding for public sexual health initiatives for the ongoing spread of syphilis, CNN reports.
Information on testing sites is available by calling the department’s HIV/STD information hotline at 832-393-5010.
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