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Virginia health officials concerned about ‘significant increase’ in syphilis cases

Syphilis cases in Virginia have increased in recent years, and state health officials are explaining why that worries them.

Syphilis cases in Virginia have increased in recent years, and state health officials are explaining why that worries them.

“We’re seeing a significant increase,” said Bryan Collins, deputy director of the STD prevention team at the Virginia Department of Health.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that, if left untreated, can lead to serious health problems. The increase has continued since around 2010, but accelerated from 2018 to 2022.

During this period, cases among men increased by 14% while cases among women jumped 70%.

“The additional concern is that, historically, the rate of syphilis in men is much higher than that in women,” Collins said. “While it remains true that the majority of cases we see are in men, the rate of cases among women is increasing much more quickly. »

This carries the risk that a woman infected with syphilis will become pregnant and pass syphilis to her unborn child.

Syphilis can be a catastrophic infection for an infant, leading to stillbirth, miscarriage, or death shortly after birth.

“We’ve seen an increase in the incidence of congenital syphilis, so much so that we had 20 cases of congenital syphilis last year,” Collins said. “In 2010 and 2012, we would typically see between zero and one case of congenital syphilis per year. »

According to Collins: “Most sexually active people should be tested regularly for STIs. »

There are several possible reasons for this increase.

“One thing we’ve seen is an increase in the percentage of syphilis cases where the infected person was using stimulants or opioids, particularly cocaine, opioids or methamphetamine,” Collins said.

There have also been many cases where the biological parent experienced housing instability in the 12 months before their child’s birth.

“It’s these types of social factors that we think are contributing to the problem,” Collins said.

Reported cases of syphilis have also increased nationally.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a significant increase in cases between 2020 and 2021.

“The rate of syphilis has increased almost every year, increasing 28.6% between 2020 and 2021,” according to the CDC. “Rates increased among men and women, in all regions of the United States. »

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