Public Health Officials Note An Unprecedented Increase In Lincoln County Syphilis Cases

Lincoln County Public Health has received reports of 12 new syphilis cases in the last 12 months here in Lincoln County. According to Lincoln County Public Health Officer David Long, MD, there were no syphilis cases in Lincoln County between 2004- 2009. Between 2009 to 2014, the number of syphilis cases in the county ranged from zero – 2 cases per year. This unprecedented increase in the number of confirmed syphilis cases in the last 12 months in Lincoln County is a serious concern to Public Health officials. More than half of the new syphilis cases in Lincoln County have occurred in women of childbearing age.

Lincoln County’s increase in total syphilis cases is similar to the trend seen in Oregon. Oregon Health Authority infectious disease expert Sean Schafer, MD, reports that syphilis cases in Oregon have increased 1,500% since 2007—from fewer than 30 reported cases to approximately 450 reported cases during 2015. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted bacterial infection that can be cured with antibiotics if treated in its early stages. Lincoln County Public Health is urging people with the following risk factors to get tested, whether or not symptoms are present:
• People with HIV
• People of either sex who use illicit drugs including, but not limited to, methamphetamine, opioids and cocaine
• People of either sex who engage in sex work or exchange sex for money or other things of value
• People who have or have had other bacterial or viral sexually transmitted infections
• People who have been exposed to syphilis.
• All pregnant women

The disease of syphilis has four stages. The symptoms of syphilis depend on the stage.
• Primary (early) syphilis—a single painless sore on the mouth, genitals, or rectum which lasts between 1-5 weeks and disappears after 6 weeks. Syphilis is most infectious during this stage.
• Secondary syphilis—rashes of the skin, mouth, genitals, and swollen lymph nodes. However, there may be no symptoms at all. Syphilis continues to be infectious during this stage.
• Latent syphilis—no symptoms, but the disease process continues.
• Tertiary (last) stage—dementia and neurological problems.
There is also congenital syphilis, which occurs when a pregnant woman with untreated syphilis transmits the disease to her baby while she is pregnant or during delivery. It may cause miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. It can also cause the child to be chronically disabled. During outbreaks like the current one in Oregon and in Lincoln County, all pregnant women should get tested for syphilis at the first prenatal visit, at the beginning of third trimester, and at delivery.

A simple blood test is needed to test for this infection. People who are concerned that they may have been exposed to, have symptoms of, or have risk factors for syphilis can ask their doctor or health care provider to specifically do the blood test for syphilis infection. Testing is also available through Lincoln County Public Health. Additional information on syphilis is available at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website: http://www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/. Persons who would like to talk to a public health nurse about their risk of infection and options for scheduling a syphilis test can call Lincoln County Public Health at 541-265-4179.

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