Health Alert: Sudden Increase in Syphilis Cases in Onondaga County

Onondaga County has seen a sharp rise in syphilis cases so far this year. In the first three months of 2021, Onondaga County has seen 28 cases of syphilis—as many cases as in all of 2020.

Health Commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta stated, “Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that is CURABLE with antibiotics if detected early. Syphilis may not cause symptoms initially but will result in very serious illness if left undiagnosed and untreated.” Gupta continued, “While our focus is on addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot forget other public health concerns in our community such as this recent rise in syphilis cases. This increase can impact not only individuals, but their partners and their unborn children if pregnant. In recent years we have seen an increase in the number of women diagnosed with syphilis.”

Syphilis is spread through direct contact with a syphilis sore (chancre), usually during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Close skin-to-skin contact even with a condom may still result in syphilis since the condom may not fully cover exposed areas. It can also be spread through kissing if there are syphilis sores in the mouth or on the lips. A pregnant woman with syphilis can spread it to her unborn baby, which can cause serious health problems and even death of the baby. If you are pregnant be sure to get tested.

Signs of syphilis can include a painless sore or ulcer in the mouth or genital areas, and generalized illness with fatigue, swollen lymph nodes, and rash. More serious signs of syphilis can include meningitis or eye infections.

The only way to know if you have syphilis is to get tested. Testing is recommended for all the following people:

  1. Men who have sex with men outside of a monogamous relationship
  2. People living with HIV
  3. Pregnant women
  4. People who engage in commercial sex work
  5. People who have anonymous sex partners, including through dating apps
  6. People attending sexually transmitted disease clinics
  7. Men less than age 25 who have been incarcerated in the last year

It is important for those with syphilis, and their partners, to be tested and treated immediately to avoid long-term complications. Anyone who thinks they may have been exposed should call their healthcare provider. If you do not have a healthcare provider, the Onondaga County Health Department’s STD Center is offering a syphilis clinic on four Thursdays, April 15, 22, 29, and May 6 from 9am to 3pm. Appointments are required, please call 315.435.3236.