The Department of Health is asking physicians to be alert for syphilis cases after receiving reports of the disease in eastern South Dakota. Seven cases of early syphilis have been reported and three cases of late, or hidden, syphilis, which occurs when early stages of the disease are not treated.
"South Dakota's last outbreak of syphilis was in 2006-2007 when we reported 30 cases of early syphilis. Last year we had no cases so it's concerning to suddenly see this many cases," said Dr. Lon Kightlinger, State Epidemiologist for the Department of Health.
Ninety percent of the current cases are male and all are white. The median age is 46, with cases ranging in age from 23 to 60.
Primarily a sexually transmitted disease, syphilis is a bacterial infection. Transmission by sexual contact requires exposure to moist lesions of skin or mucous membranes. If a pregnant woman has syphilis the disease may spread to the fetus.
The first symptom is usually a painless sore at the site of initial contact. About six weeks later, a rash may appear on any part of the body: trunk, arms, legs, palms, soles, etc. Other, more generalized symptoms can include tiredness, fever, sore throat, headaches, hoarseness, loss of appetite and swollen glands. The final stage of syphilis can damage the central nervous system, heart and eyes and can even cause death. Genital chancres, or sores, caused by syphilis also allow easier transmission of HIV.
Syphilis can be prevented by abstinence. Sexually active individuals can reduce their risk of the disease by maintaining a mutually monogamous relationship, limiting sex partners, and using condoms.
For more information about syphilis and its prevention, visit the Department of Health Web site at doh.sd.gov/DiseaseFacts/Syphilis.aspx or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site at www.cdc.gov/std/syphilis/.