“We’ve seen this precipitous increase over the past few years,” Cook said. “We saw that exponential rise going from 2019 to 2020.”
Preliminary data for 2022 is unclear, but Cook said that testing and clinics for the health district’s reproductive health demonstrates that the outbreak is ongoing.
Also unclear is the cause of the increase in syphilis cases locally, Cook said, but the increase could be influenced in part by the trade of drugs: people who are using substances trade sex for drugs or money. Cook said that increases in STIs and overdose rates often “run parallel.”
Nationally, the highest rates of the STI exist among men who have sex with men, Cook said. Cases among pregnant people, however, are also increasing nationally.
Congenital syphilis cases — the spread of syphilis to a fetus — increased from 19 cases in 2019 to 48 cases in 2021 statewide, according to preliminary data from ODH.
Two cases of congenital syphilis were reported in Clark County over the last three years, but the number of infected pregnant individuals is increasing, according to the health district.
With appropriate prenatal treatment, babies born to these individuals did not become infected with syphilis.
Pregnant women in Ohio are typically tested in their first trimester for syphilis, but the health district highly recommends that they also test for syphilis within their third trimester, Cook said.
Symptoms of syphilis vary, depending on what stage the disease is in: early signs can include rashes, lesions or sores, but sometimes an infected person displays no symptoms. Many times, sores from the infection can heal without treatment, so the disease may remain undetected. Later stages of the disease can affect the heart, brain, and other organs of the body, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The health district is combatting the outbreak by providing increased testing and screening for sexually transmitted infections, contact tracing and raising awareness of the outbreak.
The health district provides rapid testing at the Sexual Health and Wellness Clinic at Southern Village Plaza, located at 1209-3 Sunset Ave. in Springfield, and the Sexual Health and Wellness Clinic at the health district’s main office, located at 529 East Home Road Springfield.
Cook said people at high-risk for syphilis — men who have sex with men and people who have multiple sexual partners — should have conversations with their partner to determine their risk factors.
“There’s a level of awkwardness when talking about it. But you can’t ignore it, you can’t pretend it’s not happening,” Cook said. “Our choices do affect other people, and their health… we have that responsibility to other people that we care about, love or just interact with to have those real conversations.”
The health district advises calling 937-390-5600 for more information or to make an appointment.