Syphilis Outbreak Strikes the US, Public Health Alert Issued

Syphilis Outbreak Strikes the US. | Credits: JARUN011 / GETTY IMAGES
Syphilis Outbreak Strikes the US. | Credits: JARUN011 / GETTY IMAGES

United States: A syphilis outbreak has been reported by the public health authorities of Santa Crux County. The outbreak was announced after several cases linked to the disease were reported in the South County region.

The public health advisory addressed the nation on March 14, via the official website Health Services Agency of the County, after several cases of syphilis were reported in the city of Watsonville in late February. According to the information, the majority of the infected persons were homeless. The official data, eight (8) probable cases were identified with ten (10) suspected cases.

Amid a distinct bacterial outbreak persisting since January, authorities are grappling with a separate concern. Presently, 37 instances of shigellosis have been authenticated, primarily concentrated in the North County vicinity, particularly among the homeless demographic. Characterized by diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, or fever, a shigellosis contagion readily propagates, especially in settings with deficient sanitary facilities.

The notification underscores syphilis, a sexually transmitted ailment attributable to the bacterium Treponema pallidum. If untreated, syphilis can disseminate to the brain and nervous system. During pregnancy, this infection can result in severe repercussions, including fetal demise.

Expressed in the advisory by County Public Health Officer Lisa Hernandez, the outbreak raises alarm, notably due to the ongoing national scarcity of Bicillin L-A, the penicillin variant employed in syphilis treatment.

Secondary syphilis may cover your entire body, including the palms of your hands and soles of your feet. | Credits: Martin M Rotker/Getty Images
Secondary syphilis may cover your entire body, including the palms of your hands and soles of your feet. | Credits: Martin M Rotker/Getty Images

Syphilis, often dubbed “the great imitator,” showcases symptoms akin to other diseases, evolving through sequential stages spanning weeks, months, or even years. The initial or “primary stage” may feature singular or multiple painless sores, termed “chancres,” typically manifesting in or around the genitalia, rectum, anus, lips, or oral cavity. These sores persist for three to six weeks and self-heal irrespective of treatment; however, without intervention, the infection advances.

Subsequent stages entail the continued spread of rashes or lesions, a dormant phase devoid of overt indications, and a terminal “tertiary stage” capable of affecting vital organs like the heart and brain.

Infants born to syphilitic individuals, known as congenital syphilis, face dire ramifications such as miscarriage, premature delivery, or stillbirth.

As outlined in the advisory, syphilis incidents in the county have surged alarmingly in recent years. In 2022, Santa Cruz County Public Health reported 120 primary, secondary, and early latent cases, more than doubling the tally from 2020. Last year saw 85 reported cases, with 36 percent affecting the homeless populace and 32 percent afflicting females. Since 2022, no cases of congenital syphilis have been documented.

The advisory underscores that individuals engaging in sexual activity face susceptibility to syphilis, with heightened risk among those:

• Partaking in high-risk sexual behaviors, such as unprotected intercourse, promiscuity, anonymous encounters, or drug-facilitated sex.

• Afflicted with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections.

• Administering pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV prevention.

• Partnered with individuals testing positive for syphilis.

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