Butte County Public Health Department has noticed a substantial increase in the number of syphilis cases reported so far this year. In the first quarter of 2013, Butte County Public Health investigated four cases of syphilis.
“Although four does not seem like very many cases,” explained Dr. Mark Lundberg, a Butte County Health Officer, “it is concerning because typically in Butte County four is the average total cases for an entire year. If this trend continues in 2013, we may experience a 3 to 4 fold increase in the annual number of syphilis cases.”
Syphilis is a disease that laboratories and providers must report to the Public Health Department. Public Health nurses investigate all syphilis cases to ensure that anyone who may have been exposed is notified. In investigating the 4 recent cases, a total of 19 sexual contacts or possible exposures were identified. All 4 cases were young men, in their late teens to early twenties, who have sex with men but contacts included both males and females and also include many anonymous contacts.
According to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), syphilis is increasing throughout all regions of California, especially in the larger cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by a bacteria. It has often been called “the great imitator” because so many of the signs and symptoms are indistinguishable from those of other diseases. The primary stage of syphilis is often marked by the appearance of a single sore, called a chancre. Skin rash and lesions characterize the second stage. In the latent (hidden) stage of syphilis there are typically no symptoms. If untreated, someone can have latent syphilis for years without knowing. Latent syphilis may damage internal organs, including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones and joints. This damage can cause difficulty with muscle coordination, blindness, dementia and even death.
Testing for syphilis requires a visit to a doctor’s office or clinic for a blood test and if caught in the early stages can easily be treated by antibiotics. Annual STD testing is recommended for anyone who is sexually active under the age of 25 as well as for anyone starting a new relationship.
For individuals who believe they may be at risk, testing is strongly recommended. Testing is available at Butte County Public Health Department clinics in both Chico and Oroville. For more information or to make an appointment please call 891-2731 in Chico or 538-7341 in Oroville. Information is also available on our website www.buttecounty.net/publichealth and by calling our STD Information Line at 1-877-STD-INFO.