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DPHHS raising awareness about continued rise in syphilis cases

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September 1, 2017

Contact:  Jon Ebelt, Public Information Officer, DPHHS, (406) 444-0936

                Chuck Council, Communications Specialist, DPHHS, (406) 444-4391


DPHHS raising awareness about continued rise in syphilis cases


An increase in syphilis cases being seen nationwide continues to impact Montana. As of mid-August, 2017 a total of 34 cases of early syphilis have been reported. This represents a significant increase over the average of 12 cases per year reported from 2014-2016.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) that can have very serious complications when left untreated, but it is simple to prevent and can be cured with penicillin. When not adequately treated, syphilis can lead to visual impairment, hearing loss, stroke, and other neurological problems. One of the most serious complications is congenital syphilis, which can occur when an untreated woman gives birth. Up to 40% of babies born to women with untreated syphilis die from the infection as a newborn. Syphilis infection can also increase a person’s risk for getting HIV or giving it to others.

Judy Nielsen of the DPHHS STD-HIV Prevention Section said there are several steps people can take to prevent STDs. “It is important for Montanans to know that STDs are preventable and treatable,” Nielsen said. "The first step is to become informed, then taking steps to protect yourself. If you are sexually active, talk to your health care provider about the need for testing. If you are at risk, regular screening is essential in preventing transmission and long term health consequences associated with STDs.”

All 50 states require syphilis cases be reported to public health authorities so actions to treat exposed persons can be taken. This prevents others from becoming infected and also prevents the adverse health outcomes of untreated syphilis.

The 34 Montana cases include 27 males and seven females. While those infected range in age from age 20 to 60, most have been on in the 20-30 age range. The majority of cases are from more populous areas including Yellowstone, Missoula, Flathead, Cascade, Gallatin, and Lewis and Clark counties. However, rural areas of Stillwater, Fergus, Musselshell, Ravalli and Park counties also reported cases.

While cases among heterosexuals are being reported, men who have sex with men (MSM) continue to make up the majority of Montana syphilis cases accounting for over half of reported cases.

To lower the risk of syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections, DPHHS recommends the following:

·         Reduce your number of sexual partner(s) or remain in a long-term monogamous relationship.

·         Talk to your partner about STDs.

       ·        Use latex condoms every time you have sex.

·         Get the vaccine for human papillomavirus, or HPV, which can protect you against diseases (including cancers) caused by the virus.

·         Speak with your health care provider about your sexual history so that he or she can provide you with the appropriate STD testing and prevention guidance.

“If you are not comfortable speaking with your regular health care provider, contact one of the clinics listed on the DPHHS website about confidential and free or low-cost testing,” Nielsen said.

For more information on STDs, HIV, testing, and how to protect yourself, contact your local health department or visit: http://dphhs.mt.gov