Cases of Syphilis Spiking In Franklin County

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Central Ohio Health officials are warning the medical community and the public about an outbreak of syphilis.  Franklin County has seen a 40% jump in the number of cases over the last year and it's impacting even the most innocent among us.

The Columbus Public Health lab is one of the few places where a positive result is a negative outcome, and lately, these tests have been producing a troubling number of positive results.

Doctor Jose Bazan is the Medical Director of the Sexual Health Clinic at the Columbus Public Health Department.  "Syphilis is a highly contagious sexually transmitted infection.  It can be spread through vaginal, anal, or oral sex," he said.

Over the last five years, Franklin County has seen a steady increase in the number of infections.  "Our rates of syphilis in the last couple of years here in Franklin County have been up to three times what we've seen in the rest of the state of Ohio, up to two times the national average,” said Bazan.

More than 80% of cases are men.  Of those, 70% involve men having sex with other men, and 50% are co-infected with HIV.

Information and resources:

CDC: Syphilis Fact Sheet 

Columbus Public Health Sexual Health Program

Bazan also reports significant spikes among the female and African American populations:  a 70% jump for black men, and a 77% increase for women, two-thirds of whom are African American.

"The problem with syphilis in women, is especially if they get infected while they are pregnant.  The concern is they can actually transmit this infection to the unborn baby," Bazan explains.

This year, Franklin County has seen four cases of babies born with congenital syphilis, which Bazan says can have catastrophic consequences, including deformity and death.

Not surprisingly, Bazan attributes the spike to high-risk sexual behaviors.

"We are looking at things like unprotected sex, but not only unprotected sex, but sex with anonymous or multiple sex partners, using the internet or other social media sites to find sex partners."

Also contributing to the spread, a lack of candid communication between doctors and patients.  "I think a lot of the times providers may be hesitant to ask about specific sexual behaviors of their patients,” Bazan said. “And for the same token, patients may not be as forthcoming in divulging their status or their behaviors."

That's why Columbus Public Health is sending letters to health care providers, and taking their campaign to social media and other places these populations meet.  Their message is simple: know the facts, protect yourself, and your partners.