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Rise in syphilis cases prompts new guidance from health officials

syphilis cases 2007-2022
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Public Health officials in King County are recommending all women ages 45 and under test for syphilis annually.

Cases of the sexually transmitted infection have gone up five-fold since 2015 in cisgender women.

“The increase in syphilis in cisgender women and pregnant people suggest that syphilis may be spreading in the general population and among women in particular,” said Dr. Matthew Golden, director of the Public Health – Seattle & King County HIV/STD Program, in a statement. “Rising rates of syphilis in cisgender women and pregnant people is alarming, which is why we are recommending that most sexually active women 45 and under get tested if they haven’t had a test since 2021, and why we are asking providers to increase syphilis testing in pregnant persons.”

Seattle and King County Public Health seeks to help women catch it early, and reduce congenital infection, by asking all sexually active women under 45 to get tested. Syphilis is treatable when detected, but when undetected and carried in pregnancy, it can cause birth defects or miscarriage.

According to Public Health: "Prior to 2019, there had not been a case of congenital syphilis in King County for many years. In 2019 there were three reported cases and just one case in 2020. However, there were 11 cases of congenital syphilis in King County in 2021. Two of the babies were stillborn and five were born prematurely. Twelve cases of congenital syphilis have occurred in King County so far in 2022, resulting in 8 premature births and 9 babies with congenital syphilis symptoms."

Syphilis has been on the rise locally and nationally in recent years, prompting efforts in the Seattle area to raise awareness and encourage people to get tested.

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