MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - April is STD Awareness Month and state health officials are warning Mississippi residents about a rise in the number of syphilis cases seen throughout the Magnolia State and the U.S.
According to a release from Mississippi State Department of Health, the number has been steadily increasing for at least the last 15 years.
Nationally, MSDH reported an 18% increase in cases of early syphilis from 2015 to 2016 there was a reported 18 percent increase in cases of early syphilis from 2015 to 2016, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Mississippi, the cases increased by 32 percent for the same time period.
In 2016, most of the 822 cases of early syphilis reported in Mississippi occurred in men, and of the male cases, 70% were in men who have sex with men. Individuals aged 20-29 years accounted for 52% of all cases reported in Mississippi, and 36% of the total cases in this age group were in African American men.
"We want to make sure providers and the public are aware that we have seen recent increases in syphilis in Mississippi," said Dr. Paul Byers, State Epidemiologist for the Mississippi State Department of Health. "Persons infected with syphilis may not have obvious symptoms, so screening for infection and appropriate treatment are essential. Persons at higher risk for syphilis and all pregnant women should be screened for infection routinely and treated with antibiotics when infection is identified."
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. It spreads mainly by sexual contact, but may also be transmitted by infected mothers to their unborn children. If left untreated, syphilis can lead to nervous system disorders such as blindness, insanity or paralysis.
Among cases reported in 2016, HIV co-infection was seen in 36 percent of patients. A person who has syphilis is three to five times more likely to be infected with and pass on HIV to partners.
Testing for syphilis and other sexually transmitted disease is free and confidential by appointment at any county health department.