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Syphilis, Gonorrhea on the Rise in Oregon

June 6, 2014

This article was reported by Statesman Journal.

The Statesman Journal reported that Oregon's syphilis and gonorrhea rates have increased dramatically in recent years. Syphilis prevalence recently tied high numbers from more than two decades ago and is now twice the national average. Gonorrhea rates saw a sharp 18-percent increase between 2012 and 2013. Dr. Sean Schafer, a medical epidemiologist with the Oregon Health Authority, thinks the numbers are distressing. "We haven't seen numbers like this since the late ‘80s, early 1990s. And this year is looking like another bad year," he said.

When syphilis is in its early stage of infection, it is the most contagious. The first symptoms of syphilis, a sore then a rash, often go undetected and a person can transmit the disease easily to another person. There was nearly a 25-percent increase of early syphilis cases between 2012 and 2013, from 312 to 404. This year has already seen two cases of congenital syphilis in infants, causing one death.

Schafer reports that 96 percent of 2013 syphilis cases were in men, with 77 percent of them among men who have sex with men. More than 50 percent were coinfected with HIV. Seventy-seven percent of 2013 gonorrhea cases were also among men. Gonorrhea often has no symptoms and is unknowingly transmitted to other partners. HIV-infected gay men often choose HIV-positive partners to avoid using condoms, but they still can transmit STDs. Schafer recommends that all gay men and women younger than 24 should get a syphilis and gonorrhea test every year. Both STDs are easily treated with antibiotics if detected early.

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