Concord, NH – New Hampshire is experiencing an outbreak of syphilis, as the number of reported cases in New Hampshire for 2017 is about double that of previous years. From January through May of this year, forty-two cases of syphilis, a reportable sexually transmitted disease (STD), were identified. That is an increase compared with the past 5 years, when an average of 20 cases were reported during those months.
Between 2012 and 2016, there were on average approximately 80 total cases per year of the disease reported in New Hampshire, with 2016 having the highest number of 104 cases reported for the entire year. The outbreak in New Hampshire is consistent with national trends and is being seen mainly in men under age 40 and in men who have sex with men (MSM). Approximately 60% of cases have been in Hillsborough and Rockingham Counties.
“Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that can have serious health consequences if left untreated, but it can be cured when a person is diagnosed and given the right antibiotics,” said State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan. “Syphilis was close to being eliminated in the United States back in 2000, but over the last decade it has been making a resurgence, and unfortunately, New Hampshire is not immune to the impact of increasing STDs.”
Syphilis can infect anybody who is sexually active. If a pregnant woman is infected, she can also pass the infection on to her unborn baby, resulting in congenital syphilis, a severe, disabling, and often life-threatening infection seen in infants. Fortunately, New Hampshire has not identified a case of congenital syphilis since 2013. The New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Division of Public Health Services (DPHS) recommends that everyone who is sexually active talk with their healthcare provider about getting tested for STDs, such as syphilis, HIV, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, and that individuals with sexual risk factors should be tested for syphilis, including MSM and anybody who has been diagnosed with another sexually transmitted disease. Pregnant women also need to be routinely tested for syphilis whether or not they have symptoms.
Syphilis is caused by infection with the Treponema pallidum bacterium, and it can be transmitted through vaginal, anal, and oral sex. Syphilis is divided into stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary), and there are different signs and symptoms associated with each stage. Primary and secondary are the most common stages. A person with primary syphilis generally has a sore or sores at the original site of infection. These sores usually occur on or around the genitals, around the anus or in the rectum, or in or around the mouth. Symptoms of secondary syphilis include skin rash, swollen lymph nodes, and fever. The signs and symptoms of primary and secondary syphilis can be mild, and they might not be noticed. Syphilis can also cause a central nervous system or eye infection at any stage of disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of primary and secondary syphilis has increased almost every year since 2000–2001. In 2015, a total of 23,872 primary and secondary syphilis cases were reported nationally which represents a rate of about 8.0 cases per 100,000 population; this represents a 19.0% increase from 2014 and is the highest rate reported since 1994.
Prevention for STDs includes abstinence, getting tested before beginning a relationship with a new partner, limiting the number of sex partners, and using condoms every time. Treating infections with appropriate antibiotics is also important for stopping the spread of STDs.
For more information on syphilis, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/.