North Dakota Identifies Major Syphilis Outbreak

Health officials in North Dakota say there has been a significant increase in syphilis cases since 2009.

BY Todd Heywood

June 16 2014 4:11 AM ET

Health officials in North and South Dakota are raising alarms about a significant syphilis outbreak identified in the two, sparsely populated states. In January 2013, officials in the two states identified a cluster of syphilis cases centered on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, which straddles both states. 

Since then, the Billings Gazette reports, 82 cases in the two states have been identified. Unlike most syphilis outbreaks in the US, however, this outbreak is effecting heterosexuals. The majority of new syphilis infections in the US are reported in men who have sex with men. The CDC reports that in 2012, 75 percent of cases of syphilis identified in the US were among men who have sex with men. 

Infection with syphilis has been identified as a co-factor in HIV infections. Being infected with syphilis can increase the risk of transmission of HIV two to five fold, according to the federal government. Infection with both syphilis, which is an easily treatable bacterial infection, and HIV causes an increase in HIV viral load. 

The Billings Gazette also reported that North Dakota had seen a 225 percent increase in gonorrhea cases since 2009. 

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