State has increase in syphillis cases

State has increase in syphillis cases

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois has more in common with Indiana than a shared state border. The Land of Lincoln joined its Hoosier neighbor with an increase in syphilis cases last year, according to new public health data.

Early syphilis cases — which include primary, secondary and early latent stage cases, all in the first 12 months — rose in Illinois from 1,682 in 2014 to 1,974 last year, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Indiana saw a 70 percent upswing in those cases last year, from 297 in 2014 to 505 last year, its state health department said.

A high number of Illinois' early syphilis cases last year — 1,637 of them — were in Cook County, mostly in Chicago.

Syphilis is a sexually-transmitted disease that can cause long-term complications. It's spread by contact with a syphilis sore, called a chancre, through vaginal, anal or oral sex.

The sore (or sores) are typically painless and appear in the primary stage, and can be hard to detect, health experts say. More obvious skin rashes appear in the second stage, with symptoms disappearing in the latent period — which can linger quietly for decades and cause serious health issues down the road.

Early syphilis cases have been steadily increasing in Illinois since 2007.

While the number of new cases in Champaign County has been under 10 a year for each of the past three years, it's a concern, "and something that's not going away," said Candi Crause, director of infectious diseases at the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District.

The local health district does about 1,500 syphilis tests a year, and urges anyone with multiple sex partners to undergo a test for this and other sexually transmitted diseases annually, she said.

It's a simple blood test, Crause said.

Testing is important, she said, because the initial syphilis sores can be on locations of the body where they're easily missed by people who have them, and the rash that appears on hands or feet later is often mistaken by people for something else, say a skin reaction to household product, she said. The rash goes away without treatment, though the infection will remain and progress.

Syphilis can be cured in early stages with penicillin injections. But left untreated, someone can be infected at 30, for example, and develop complications around 60, Crause said.

Syphilis can cause a host of complications, among them stroke, deafness, vision problems, dementia and damage to the cardiovascular system. It can also up the risk for HIV infection, and pregnant women can pass syphilis on to their unborn children.

One more thing to keep in mind about syphilis, given the current season, is that cases tend to increase in the summer "for some reason," Crause said. "There's absolutely no reason for that. None that we can figure out."

In addition to testing, health experts also advise consistent use of latex condoms and being in a monogamous relationship to reduce the risk of getting syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections.

The Illinois Department of Public Health also released new data showing an upswing in two other sexually transmitted diseases last year, gonorrhea and chlamydia.

Chlamydia cases rose from 66,593 in 2014 to 69,610 last year.

Gonorrhea cases increase from 15,971 to 17,130 in the same time period, according to the state.

Around the area

A county-by-county breakdown of 2015's early syphilis cases:

Champaign: 9

Coles: 8

Vermilion: 2

DeWitt: 1

Edgar: 1

Ford, Iroquois, Douglas and Piatt counties had none.

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