North Carolina health officials say that the sexually transmitted infection, syphilis are highest since the year 2000 and cases increased 40 percent from 2014 to 2015.

Treponema pallidum spirochete/CDC

The highest number of cases in some of the state’s most populous counties: Cumberland, Durham, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Wake.

The majority of syphilis cases are reported in males.  In calendar year 2014, men made up 90 percent of those diagnosed, and of these new cases most were among men reporting sex with men.  Those who are HIV positive are at highest risk of contracting syphilis.  In 2014, 48 percent of males diagnosed with syphilis were co-infected with HIV.

“When a sexually transmitted disease goes untreated, it will lead to other issues,” said Evelyn Foust, head of the Communicable Disease Branch in the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Public Health. “In the case of syphilis we are seeing a rise in ocular syphilis, which may cause permanent loss of sight.  We are urging individuals to be open with their healthcare provider about their sexual health, and for providers to be diligent in proactively screening and educating their patients.”

In February 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated a clinical advisory outlining a national increase in ocular syphilis, and diagnostic and treatment options.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, any patient who presents with classic features of syphilis, or who has had a recent sexual exposure to syphilis, should be treated without waiting for test results.

“Delays in the diagnosis and treatment of ocular syphilis have resulted in significant consequences for patients, including permanent visual impairment and blindness,” said Victoria Mobley, M.D., HIV/STD medical director for the Communicable Disease Branch.  “Syphilis has not gone away, and it’s still as important as ever to practice safe sex and get tested regularly, not only to intervene early, but to limit the exposure of syphilis, HIV and other STDs to future partners.”

People should be tested for all STDs if they have been sexually active with more than one partner or with a partner whose STD status is unknown.  Syphilis and HIV tests are available at local health departments.