Experts declare syphilis outbreak in Houston and Harris County

September 25, 2012 10:00:00 PM PDT
City health officials are issuing a warning about the dramatic increase of a specific sexually transmitted disease. Officials say the number of syphilis cases is up 97 percent and they believe they know the reason why.

There's been a 97 percent increase in the number of cases of syphilis in the first seven months of this year. But the actual numbers are small. From January to August last year, there were 174 cases. From January to August this year, there were 318 cases.

Until 2012, syphilis was declining. So why the increase? The Houston Health Department says social media and how people use it to meet strangers for sex.

"Primarily we're seeing an increase among men who have sex with men and the primary factor in that risk group is related to the internet, meeting partners over the internet and through social networking sites," said Michael Thomas, the Centers for Disease Control advisor to Houston.

Syphilis begins with a raised sore. Three weeks later, that goes away and a rash begins and after that, it can go internal, but still affect the brain, heart and skin.

It's is easily cured with a single shot of penicillin.

A big concern is when syphilis increases, so does the spread of HIV. Approximately 39 percent of people with infectious syphilis this year also tested HIV positive.

The other big worry is statewide, there's been an increase in the number of babies born with congenital syphilis. In Houston, we've had 13 babies born with congenital syphilis.

The Houston Health Department is extending their hours so that more people can get treated or tested. HDHHS offers testing and treatment services at Sharpstown Health Services, 6201 Bonhomme; Sunnyside Health Center, 4605 Wilmington; and Northside Health Center, 8504 Schuller.

They recommend immediate testing for the following:

  • Men who have sex with men
  • People who engage in anonymous sex
  • Anyone who has had multiple sex partners
  • People who test positive for other sexually-transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea, Chlamydia and HIV

Houston's last syphilis outbreak occurred in 2007.

Information on testing sites and syphilis is available by calling HDHHS' HIV/STD Information Hotline at 832-393-5010. For additional syphilis information, visit www.houstonhealth.org.


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