University syphilis statistics reflect decline nationwide

Amber Foley

The incidence of syphilis is at an all-time low with fewer than 7,000 syphilis cases nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced recently.
The organization’s next step, and the goal of its latest campaign, is to lower the nation’s syphilis cases to less than 1,000 by 2005 and eventually eliminate the disease after that.
“This is a huge national effort,” said Elaine Collison who works in the Minnesota Department of Health’s AIDS/STD prevention area.
On campus, cases of syphilis are rare, so much so that Boynton Health Service diagnosed only one case in the last year. Statewide, Minnesota falls in line with the national average of 2.6 syphilis cases per 100,000 people in the U.S. population, according to the CDC.
Nine cases of syphilis were reported in Minnesota in 1998. Cases have steadily declined since the early 1990s.
Syphilis is concentrated in 28 counties in the Southeastern United States. Because of this concentration of syphilis cases, the CDC representatives said they are optimistic about keeping the disease isolated and eliminating syphilis for good.
Cases of syphilis have decreased drastically since 1943, when more than a half-million were reported nationwide, according to the CDC. The introduction of penicillin and numerous public-awareness campaigns reduce the prevalence of syphilis.
The CDC has granted more money for syphilis prevention to states with higher syphilis rates and states with the potential for the disease to re-emerge.
The CDC expects its four strategies — strengthening community involvement, enhancing disease surveillance, responding rapidly to outbreaks, expanding clinical and laboratory services and promoting health more aggressively — to help communities with the highest rates.
Minnesota’s reporting system has a reputation for its strength and the tendency for medical personnel follow up on people who report having syphilis.
Dave Golden, a Boynton Heath Service community program specialist, said he believes the decrease in syphilis is related to effective treatments and an increase in partner notification.
“It used to be taboo to notify your partner; now it is commonplace,” he said.
Pam Smith, a nurse in Boynton Health Service’s women’s center, said that syphilis is listed as a common sexually transmitted disease, but that it’s not nearly as common as other transmitted diseases.
Unlike other STDs, symptoms of syphilis are apparent, causing people to seek medical attention.
The disease has three stages if untreated. The primary stage, occurring about three weeks after unprotected sex, consists of a painless ulcer. The secondary stage includes a rash and, occasionally, enlarged lymph nodes. The latent stage, which takes years to develop, can attack neurological and cardiac systems and be can be fatal.

Amber Foley covers science and technology and welcomes comments at [email protected] She can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3213.