An urgent plea for King County women to get tested for syphilis

Apr 18, 2023, 1:49 PM


Treponema pallidum is the bacterium which causes syphilis (Photo courtesy of UW Medicine)

(Photo courtesy of UW Medicine)

King County health officials are warning women under 45 to test for syphilis, especially if they haven’t tested since January 2021. 190 cases were reported last year, according to Washington State Department of Health and Public Health – Seattle & King County, a sizable increase from the 117 cases in 2021.

The Public Health Department cited there has been a nearly 5-fold increase in syphilis in cisgender women since 2015 and a 10-fold increase from 2021 to 2022.

Deadly fungus spreading in U.S. with approximately 60% mortality

The disease can start with sores and a rash, according to health officials, and, if left untreated, syphilis can spread to the brain, leading to severe health concerns for the person infected and, if pregnant, newborns who can contract it. Congenital syphilis is a devastating disease that can lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death, prematurity, and long-term health outcomes in infants affected.

“The increase in syphilis in cisgender women and pregnant people suggests that syphilis may be spreading in the general population and among women in particular,” said Dr. Matthew Golden, Director of the Public Health – Seattle & King County HIV/STD Program, in a prepared statement. “Rising rates of syphilis in cisgender women and pregnant people is alarming, which is why we are recommending that most sexually active women 45 and under get tested if they haven’t had a test since 2021, and why we are asking providers to increase syphilis testing in pregnant persons.”

The spike in syphilis has been occurring nationwide, according to new CDC data, which reported that the number of cases has risen yearly since 2012 — the year this sexually transmitted infection (STI) was at a historic low.

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“I believe that, partially, we are not being vigilant about screening and treating pregnant women. Unfortunately, according to the CDC data, about 30% of women don’t have access to care,” Dr. Irene Stafford told PBS News. “On top of that, there’s been a certain percentage [of people] that has actually been screened for syphilis but did not get timely treatment. And lastly, there’s been a surge in cases where women have converted and become infected with syphilis during the third trimester.

Women in need of help can call the health clinic at 206-744-3590.

Follow Micki Gamez on Twitter or email her here.

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An urgent plea for King County women to get tested for syphilis