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Salt Lake County sees an 800% increase of syphilis in women

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake County Health Department announced that the county is seeing an alarming increase of syphilis cases.

The trend is consistent with national data announced by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This year, the number of female cases in Salt Lake County has already doubled, according to Lynn Beltran, epidemiology supervisor with the Salt Lake County Health Department. Beltran also confirmed a total of 278 cases in men and 320 cases in women so far this year.

The county health department released data showing that from 2018 to 2022, Salt Lake County had an 800% increase in syphilis cases among young women. Of that number, 89% of cases were in women of childbearing age, 15-44.

The increase in that age group means an increased risk of newborn syphilis in the community. The county has confirmed four cases of congenital syphilis in newborns so far this year.

According to a release from the health department, “newborn syphilis occurs when mothers do not receive timely testing and treatment during their pregnancy. Syphilis during pregnancy can lead to stillbirth, miscarriage, or neonatal death, and surviving infants who are not adequately treated can develop blindness, deafness, developmental delays, or skeletal abnormalities.”

“I’ve been practicing pediatric infectious disease for 35 years,” said Dr. Andrew Pavia, the director of epidemiology at Primary Children’s Hospital. “This year, we’ve evaluated, as a group, probably 35 to 40 women who’ve had syphilis exposure while pregnant.”

“In 2022, we saw our first case of syphilis in a newborn since 2008,” said Dr. Angela C. Dunn, executive director of the Salt Lake County Health Department. “Newborn syphilis is especially unfortunate because it’s completely preventable — we can keep newborns from suffering by ensuring women have affordable, convenient access to syphilis testing and treatment, as well as appropriate prenatal care.”

Syphilis rates in all people — not just women — have increased in recent years, though not as dramatically as those among women. Overall, from 2018 to 2022, overall syphilis rates in Salt Lake County increased 65%.

The CDC recommends that all pregnant women get tested for syphilis early in pregnancy and that people with multiple or anonymous sexual partners be tested for syphilis every three, six, or 12 months depending on their number of partners and their specific circumstances.

Officials also urge health care providers to begin syphilis treatment right away while waiting for confirmatory testing, when they have a patient test positive on a rapid test.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a bacterium. When left untreated, it can cause serious health problems. The infection develops in stages, and each stage can have different signs and symptoms. Beltran said typical symptoms are unusual skin issues or sores, rashes, bumps. Syphilis is curable with the right antibiotics, but treatment might not undo damage the infection has already caused.

For more information about syphilis, visit CDC.gov.

For testing and other resources in Salt Lake County, visit in SLCO.org.

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