Syphilis Cases Explode Across Lane County

Oct 27, 2016

Since 2010, the case rate of syphilis has increased in Lane County by nearly 1000%, according to health officials.  KLCC’s Brian Bull reports.  

Treponema pallidum, the bacteria that causes syphilis.
Credit Flickr.com's NIH Image gallery.

Cindy Morgan is the Communicable Disease Supervisor for Lane County Public Health.  She says six years ago, they were seeing less than 10 syphilis cases a year.  Now they’ve seen 41 in 2016 alone.  Morgan says decreased public health funding and complacency have caused people to dismiss the sexually-transmitted disease’s prevalence and risk.

“Patients often think that syphilis was a disease of the 1920s, I often hear when I offer syphilis testing to patients, that they didn’t think they needed to be tested for that, because that was a disease they thought was pretty much eliminated.  And that’s just not true.” 

Morgan says Lane County’s unusual because the disease – which had typically affected a small group of men -- seems to have spread equally between men and women.   

Cindy Morgan of Lane County Public Health.
Credit Brian Bull

"Our concern is, is that once we start seeing syphilis at such a proportion in our community, we’re going to start seeing more cases of congenital syphilis, which is when a pregnant woman has syphilis and transmits that disease to her unborn child.” 

Syphilis manifests early as painless sores on genitalia or the mouth. Untreated, it can lead to paralysis, blindness, dementia and death.  Syphilis is treatable, and safe sex can prevent it from spreading.