Chicago health officials report an increase in Primary and Secondary (P&S) syphilis cases in the city.
Data for 2020 indicate that there were 919 reported P&S syphilis cases in the City of Chicago, which represents a 13 percent increase from the same period of 2019. Data for 2021 is unavailable at this time, as it is incomplete.
The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) is alerting the community of an outbreak of syphilis it is investigating among older heterosexual men in the Far South Side Roseland community area.
Between September 9 and November 4, 2021, five confirmed cases of (P&S) syphilis cases were diagnosed among African American males residing in the Roseland community area. All reported having oral sex with females who engage in sex work. Over the past three years the median age of individuals diagnosed with P&S Syphilis in the Zip Code areas that comprise Roseland has gone up from 28 in 2019 to 34 in 2020-2021.
In response to this outbreak, CDPH is issuing an alert to medical providers serving the Roseland area that urges routine screening of sexually active clients and encourages open dialogue about transmission, signs and symptoms of the Primary &Secondary (P&S) syphilis. CDPH is asking healthcare providers to identify and report all Primary and Secondary syphilis cases to the Chicago Department of Public Health immediately via Chicago Health Information Management System (CHIMS).
CDPH is also engaging in a public information and awareness campaign, urging anyone who believes they’ve been exposed to syphilis or notices symptoms, to get tested for it.
Syphilis is passed during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. The infection starts with a single painless lesion that develops within three or four weeks at the site of entry into the body, and often goes unnoticed. Even without treatment, the lesion will spontaneously heal, but left untreated, syphilis progresses to a non-itchy rash on the trunk of the body, palms of the hands or soles of the feet. Other traits of this stage include fever, headaches, muscle aches, sore throat, and fatigue. Syphilis is called The Great Imitator, as its symptoms can be confused with other conditions or get overlooked completely.
Without proper treatment, syphilis can progress to the latent stages and may cause serious health consequences, including neurological damage, blindness, dementia, permanent damage to other vital organs, and death. For pregnant women, syphilis can cause permanent harm or death to a fetus. Syphilis also makes it easier to acquire or transmit HIV.
Syphilis can be cured with penicillin.
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