Government officials and health care experts in Minnesota expressed concern about a rise in new cases of HIV and syphilis in and around Duluth. The Minnesota Department of Health and St. Louis County Public Health Department announced last week they are collaboratively investigating what they describe as an outbreak between September 2019 and February 2021, with 13 reported new cases of HIV as well as an unusual rise in new cases of syphilis. Duluth is a small part of St. Louis County, and officials noted the entire county only averaged between 1 to 5 new cases of HIV annually.
Department officials in a statement described the outbreak as “concerning” and a “significant increase” with the “potential to spread very quickly.” They noted the rise in new cases of HIV and syphilis required “deliberate action.”
The dramatic increase came in a roughly 30-mile radius surrounding the city of Duluth. The new cases cited involved individuals who were residing in the area at the time of diagnosis or were linked to others in the area. Those people in the area included sex partners, friends, sex workers, those with chemical dependencies, those who share drugs, and/or others within their social network.
Officials also expressed concern about a parallel rise in the number of new syphilis cases in the Duluth area. Although increasing rates of infection in the area have worried officials for years, the new preliminary data from this “indicates a significant rise in the number of early syphilis cases in the area over the past year.” The new cases occurred almost exclusively among males, although officials did see an increasing number of cases among women of reproductive age, causing concern about the possibility of an increase in congenital syphilis.
The Minnesota Department of Health and St. Louis County Public Health Department recommended increased testing in the area to identify and appropriately treat new cases while providing educational information and support services to the community. They asked local and tribal authorities to disseminate the warnings and information to hospitals, clinics, chemical dependency and treatment centers, and correctional facilities in their jurisdictions.