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Granite State Experiencing Syphilis Outbreak
Published Friday, June 30, 2017

Treponema pallidum bacterium, which causes syphilis. Photo: CDC Public Health Image Library/Dr. Edwin P. Ewing, Jr.

According to the NH Department of Health and Human Services (NHDHHS), NH is experiencing an outbreak of syphilis, as the number of cases reported to the state for 2017 is about double that of previous years. From January through May of this year, 42 cases of syphilis, a reportable sexually transmitted disease (STD), were identified. That is an increase compared with the past five years, when an average of 20 cases were reported during those months.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the rate of primary and secondary syphilis has increased almost every year since 2000–2001. In 2015, a total of 23,872 primary and secondary syphilis cases were reported nationally which represents a rate of about eight cases per 100,000 population; this represents a 19 percent increase from 2014 and is the highest rate reported since 1994.

Between 2012 and 2016, there were on average approximately 80 total cases per year of the disease reported in NH, with 2016 having the highest number of 104 cases reported for the entire year. The outbreak in NH is consistent with national trends and is being seen mainly in men under age 40 and in men who have sex with men (MSM). Approximately 60 percent of cases have been in Hillsborough and Rockingham Counties.

“Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that can have serious health consequences if left untreated, but it can be cured when a person is diagnosed and given the right antibiotics,” says Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist. “Syphilis was close to being eliminated in the United States back in 2000, but over the last decade it has been making a resurgence, and unfortunately, New Hampshire is not immune to the impact of increasing STDs.”

Syphilis can infect anybody who is sexually active. If a pregnant woman is infected, she can also pass the infection on to her unborn baby, resulting in congenital syphilis, a severe, disabling and often life-threatening infection seen in infants. New Hampshire has not identified a case of congenital syphilis since 2013.

The NHDHHS' Division of Public Health Services recommends that everyone who is sexually active talk with their healthcare provider about getting tested for STDs, and that individuals with sexual risk factors should be tested for syphilis, including MSM and anybody who has been diagnosed with another sexually transmitted disease. Pregnant women also need to be routinely tested for syphilis whether or not they have symptoms.

More information on syphilis is available via the CDC.

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