Syphilis rates triple in state since last year
Published: Monday, March 5, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 03:03
Diagnosed cases of syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection that causes skin to develop open sores, have tripled in Delaware during 2011.
Delaware's Division of Public Health reported that 76 cases of syphilis were recorded last year compared to 23 cases in 2010, according to a press release last month. A majority of these cases have been reported in New Castle County, and more than 90 percent were among males who have sex with other men.
Dr. Martin Luta, Chief of the Bureau of Communicable Disease, said all Delawareans should be cautious and aware of syphilis.
"When you see an uptick in any STD, it means people aren't engaging in safe sex practices," Luta said. "Although a majority of the cases are reported among [men having sex with other men], there are many people in this category who are bisexual—so everybody must practice safe sex."
Luta also said the rise of syphilis is not exclusive to the state of Delaware because residents of other states commute or travel through it.
"Delaware is such a large metropolitan area—we're surrounded by large cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York City and Newark, New Jersey," Luta said. "Some of the activity is reported here because there is so much travel. It's a nationwide phenomenon."
There are also an increased number of reports of the disease in Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, southern California, Miami and New York City, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Syphilis is one of more than 100 diseases that physicians are required by law to report to the state.
Dr. Joseph Siebold, director of Student Health Services, stated in an email message that while the center has not observed an increase among university students, he cannot determine exactly how many members of the community may be infected by the disease.
"We specifically have not seen an [increase] in this diagnosis," Siebold said. "However, there is no way that we could tell if one or more of these cases were UD students who were seen in a public health clinic."
Student Health Services conducts appointments to screen for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, including syphilis.
Luta said syphilis is transmitted by the exchange of body fluids like many STDs. The symptoms include an open sore or an ulcer, which means blood is exposed and increases the chance of being infected by other diseases.
He said most cases of syphilis and other bacterial infections can be treated and cured, but the exposure can lead to other chronic infections that cannot be healed.
"If you're exposing yourself to syphilis—you are exposing yourself to HIV, which can only be managed and never cured," he said.
Luta said it is extremely important to practice safe sex and generate awareness of the disease, especially to college students.
"Young students are really among the targets we try to reach out to because there is a lot of the transmission occurring, just by the fact that they are young." Luta said.
Junior Alyssa Dinnigan believes the increase in reported cases of syphilis is more significant than people realize because it is something people do not usually pay attention to.
"It's an STD people don't think about," Dinnigan said. "Like AIDS, people usually think, ‘Oh, it's never going to happen to me,' so I think it's definitely something to worry about."
Junior Hannah Linde said she was not aware of the increase until recently. She said students tend to avoid discussing the issue, which endangers more than themselves.
"It's definitely something we need to be aware of, if we're going to get UD alerts about rapists down the road we should probably be aware that there's a rise in syphilis," Linde said. "I know that people don't want to talk about this subject but it's something that is endangering our welfare. College kids—they do what they want. And if they weren't embarrassed to go get treatment or to talk about it, I think more people could be educated by it."