The Southern Nevada Health District has identified a 128 percent increase in reported syphilis cases in Clark County since 2012 and is now considering the increase to be an outbreak for early syphilis cases. The increase is seen mostly among men with 615 of the 694 cases diagnosed in 2015.

Treponema pallidum spirochete/CDC

Early syphilis is an infection that has been acquired within the previous 12 months. As part of its efforts to combat the outbreak the Health District is urging health care providers, especially those who treat young men, to immediately report a syphilis diagnosis to the Health District and begin prompt treatment for patients and their partners.

“We are considering this an outbreak because disease rates in our community are continuing to climb and we see no plateau at this point,” said Dr. Joe Iser, Chief Health Officer. “Syphilis is easy to get but it is easy to get rid of with treatment. Many people don’t realize the long-term consequences of untreated syphilis. Our goal is to make people aware of the problem, encourage health care providers – especially those who treat men – to report cases to us so we can begin notifying partners, get them into treatment, and stop the spread.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there were 5,979 cases of primary and secondary syphilis in the United States and men accounted for 59 percent of cases reported in 2000. In 2014, there were 19,999 cases with men accounting for 91 percent and men who have sex with men were 83 percent of men impacted. Syphilis can also increase the risks of HIV transmission.

There are several stages of syphilis. Primary and secondary syphilis will respond to treatment. If untreated, the infection can be transmitted to others. The next stage is latent syphilis, which causes no symptoms and can only be detected with a blood test. If untreated, latent syphilis continues for life and can progress to the final stage, called late (tertiary) syphilis. Although a person with late-stage syphilis is no longer experiencing symptoms of primary and secondary stages, syphilis will begin to impact internal organs and cause neurological problems as well.

Racial and ethnic disparities continue across the country with regard to syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections. In 2014, primary and secondary syphilis rates among African-Americans were 5.4 times higher than the rate for whites. Congenital syphilis rates also increase when rates of disease increase among women.

In Nevada, rates of primary and secondary syphilis were the highest in the West with a rate of 12.8 cases per 100,000; in comparison, Wyoming had a rate of 0.7 cases per 100,000.