Syphilis Rates on the Rise in Marion County

Posted on February 21, 2023

Salem, OR – February 21, 2023 — Marion County Health & Human Services (MCHHS) is urging residents to get tested for syphilis as the number of cases surge across the country. Preliminary data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows the U.S. had a nearly 59% increase in syphilis cases from 2017 to 2021. In Marion County, MCHHS reports that from 2018-2022, cases of syphilis have increased by 216%.

Especially troubling is the increase in congenital syphilis cases, which happens when syphilis is transmitted during pregnancy and can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, and serious illness and death in newborns. Since 2016, there has been a 235% increase in congenital syphilis cases in the United States, according to preliminary CDC statistics.

MCHHS provides syphilis testing and treatment at their public clinic in Salem. The agency offers bus passes for those without transportation, and in some cases, gas cards for those struggling to fuel their personal vehicles.

“Syphilis rates are rising among men, women, and newborns. Fortunately, syphilis remains 100% preventable and treatable when affected community members have access to healthcare,” said MCHHS public health officer, Dr. Caroline Castillo. “We urge everyone 45 and younger who is sexually active and not recently screened, to get a syphilis test, and if positive, seek treatment. At MCHHS, we are prepared to stage and treat community members in our clinic and to support healthcare providers in the community.”

Syphilis spreads from person-to-person during sexual contact, namely direct contact with a syphilitic sore that may not be obvious or visible to either partner. The infection progresses through four different stages (primary, secondary, latent and tertiary). Each stage has different signs and symptoms. Treatment is based on staging, which requires an assessment by a healthcare provider. Left untreated, syphilis can cause serious health problems including dementia, heart disease, nerve damage and blindness.

The only way to completely avoid syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections is to not have vaginal, anal or oral sex. Ways to reduce the risk of syphilis include being in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who does not have syphilis; and using condoms correctly each time someone has sex and when condoms cover a syphilis lesion.

To schedule an appointment for an STD test at MCHHS’ public clinic, call 503-588-5342. Everyone is welcome and no one is turned away for inability to pay or lack of insurance.

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