As of September 28, 2021, Onondaga County has seen 95 cases of syphilis, which is more than three times the number of cases in all of 2020. This increase can impact not only individuals but also their partners and unborn children if pregnant. Health Commissioner Dr. Indu Gupta stated, “Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that can be cured with antibiotics if detected early. Syphilis may not cause symptoms initially but will result in very serious illness if left undiagnosed and untreated.” Gupta urged, “It is important to get tested and treated. The earlier you are diagnosed and start your treatment, the less likely you are to spread syphilis to your partners.”
Most of the increase in new syphilis diagnoses is among non-Hispanic Black and Caucasian men aged 16 – 69 with a history of male to male sexual contact. The most prevalent age group is those in their mid-thirties. There has also been a spike in concurrent HIV diagnoses with syphilis and gonorrhea. The number of women diagnosed with syphilis has been on the rise in recent years as well.
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:
- Men who have sex with men outside of a monogamous relationship
- People living with HIV
- Pregnant women
- People who engage in commercial sex work
- People who have anonymous sex partners, including through dating apps
- People attending sexually transmitted disease clinics
- 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 can provide testing and treatment. Appointments are required, please call 315.435.3236.