According to Missouri health officials, the statewide numbers of syphilis cases have more than doubled from 2015 to 2021.
St. Francois County’s numbers have also jumped when it comes to syphilis. From 2015 to 2022, the county had an increase of syphilis cases while seeing case numbers fluctuate for chlamydia and gonorrhea.
In 2015, the county saw three cases of syphilis. The number of cases has multiplied in the last few years. According to data from both the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the St. Francois County Health Center (SFCHC) the number of cases has continued to increase during the past two years.
Numbers were steadily increasing between 2015 and 2020, but jumped in 2021. In 2016 the county only saw four cases, by 2020 the county saw 33. In 2021 the number of cases jumped to 100, and in 2022 the county saw 121 cases of syphilis. These numbers put out by the state and county include congenital syphilis —when a baby is born with syphilis— when applicable.
SFCHC’s STD Nurse Liz Maserang, RN, said there are a few different reasons for the increase in syphilis cases.
“There are many factors such as drug use, poverty, access to care, decreased condom use, cuts to STD programs and staff loss, which decreases surveillance and linkage to care,” explained Maserang.
SFCHC Director Linda Ragsdale added to Maserang’s statements, saying the stigma surrounding STDs can prevent testing and treatment for individuals. She said the pandemic had affected public health efforts, as well.
Syphilis in someone who is pregnant can affect the baby, and can even give the infection to an unborn child. Having syphilis while pregnant can lead to a baby being born with low weight, and can even increase the odds of a baby being stillborn or premature.
Children with congenital syphilis may not have the symptoms of the STD, but if a baby born with the disease does not receive treatment, serious problems such as cataracts, deafness, and even death can occur.
Syphilis is treatable with medication from a healthcare provider, but treatment might not undo any damage the infection has done.
Numbers for two other STDs tracked by the state have also increased slightly during 2022.
Chlamydia numbers in St. Francois County peaked in 2018 with 268 and had started to decrease until 2021, when the numbers went from 161 cases in 2020 to 195 cases in 2021. In 2022, the St. Francois County Health Center reported 209 cases of chlamydia.
Like syphilis, being pregnant and having chlamydia can affect a baby. If someone is pregnant and has chlamydia, the infection can spread to the baby during delivery. This can cause the baby to have an eye infection or pneumonia. Having chlamydia and being pregnant may also make it more likely to deliver a baby early.
Chlamydia does not always present with symptoms, but some common symptoms in women include abnormal discharge and a burning sensation when urinating. Men who experience symptoms can also see discharge and a burning sensation when urinating.
There are treatments for chlamydia, and it is important to take all medication a healthcare provider gives. When taken properly, the medicine can stop the infection and could decrease chances of having problems at a later date.
Numbers for gonorrhea have also slightly increased during 2022. Originally hitting the peak case load in 2019 with 145, cases had started to decrease in 2020, which saw 105 cases, and in 2021 to 70 cases before increasing again to 86 cases during 2022.
Much like the other two diseases, gonorrhea can be spread from mother to baby during delivery, which can lead to serious health problems for the baby. Gonorrhea can often have no symptoms, and even if it does present with symptoms it can often by mistaken for a bladder or vaginal infection in women, and for men, symptoms can be a burning sensation when urinating.
There is a treatment for gonorrhea which can be prescribed, and while the medication will stop the infection it will not undo any permanent damage caused by the disease.
If one is exposed to an STD or currently has one, the St. Francois County Health Center can be reached at 573-431-1947 ext. 141 to discuss testing and treatment options. Along with providing free condoms, Maserang said, the health center can also provide other protections for safe sex. The St. Francois County Health Center is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Danielle Thurman is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-518-3616.