Public health officials declare syphilis outbreak in Idaho

BOISE (Idaho Capital Sun) — Agencies that oversee public health in the populated southwestern region of Idaho this week announced news and an outbreak of syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection.

The Central District and Southwest District Health Departments issued public announcements March 2 regarding outbreaks in their areas, which include the Boise-Nampa metro area and several surrounding counties.

There were 52 cases of syphilis in the Central District Health Region in 2018. There have been 168 cases of syphilis infection in the region since January 1, 2022, the CDH said.

The people in whom syphilis was identified ranged in age from 15 to 87, according to the CDH.

There were 14 cases of syphilis identified in the Southwest District Health Region in 2018. That figure rose to 70 cases in 2021, and the SWDH declared an outbreak that year, the agency said. New infections were slightly lower but still high in 2022, with 64 cases reported, he said.

Syphilis is an infection treatable with antibiotics. However, if left undetected and untreated, it can lead to serious health problems such as vision loss, organ damage, neurological complications, and death. Being infected does not confer immunity; a person can be infected multiple times and each infection will require treatment.

Syphilis can also be passed to a baby during pregnancy. At least two such cases have been reported to SWDH since 2020, according to the agency’s publicly available data.

Such an infection can lead to “stillbirth, early infant death, or long-term health problems for the child,” according to SWDH and CDH. “All pregnant women should be screened for syphilis at their first antenatal appointment and potentially again before delivery to ensure there is no risk of congenital syphilis.”

Symptoms of syphilis include:

  • Wounds
  • Eruption
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Articular pain

Syphilis may go unnoticed in people whose infection does not cause noticeable symptoms. Health officials recommend routine testing for syphilis, as well as other STIs, to detect and treat infections early.

Health officials also recommend practices such as limiting the number of sexual partners and using condoms to protect yourself during sexual activity. (Idaho residents can request condoms by mail, free here.)

Click here for more information on syphilis transmission, testing, and treatment in Adams, Canyon, Gem, Owyhee, Payette, and Washington counties.

For more information on syphilis transmission, testing, and treatment in Ada, Boise, Elmore, and Valley counties, click here.

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