Citizens For A Better Norwood

Friday, April 09, 2010

Norwood Health Commissioner: Syphilis Outbreak in SW Ohio

Guest blog by Pamela Walker-Bauer

I realize that for most of us, discussing sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) is not particularly easy; but as your health commissioner, I am obligated to make the community aware of the dramatic increase in any disease that has serious consequences if left undetected and untreated. In this case, it is not a new disease like H1N1, but rather it is an old foe. Syphilis has reared its ugly head yet again.

The number of Syphilis cases reported in Southwest Ohio has increased greatly over the past two years. There were 56 cases in 2007 and 70 cases in 2008. In 2009, there were 171 cases! Public Health officials have alerted area physicians of the outbreak advising them to be more suspicious and test for this disease. Syphilis is known as “the great imitator” because the signs and symptoms of this disease are similar to many others.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease passed directly from person to person through direct contact with a Syphilis sore. Spread of the bacteria that causes Syphilis occurs during vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Pregnant women can even pass on this disease to their babies. Signs and symptoms of Syphilis occur in a series of stages: primary, secondary, and late.

Symptoms in the primary stage include a sore called chancre-there can be one or several. The sores are usually painless, firm, and round. The sore will heal in 3-6 weeks without treatment. However, if not treated with antibiotics at this stage, the disease will progress to a secondary, more serious stage.

The secondary stage of Syphilis is marked by a rash on one or more areas of the body. There may also be a fever, swollen glands, headaches, fatigue, muscle aches, or weight and hair loss. These symptoms will resolve even if not treated. Again if there is no treatment with antibiotics, the disease progresses to the late stage.

Late stage Syphilis may occur 10-20 years after the initial infection. This stage of the disease can be devastating. Damage occurs to the internal organs including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, liver, bones and joints. Symptoms include: paralysis, difficulty moving, numbness, blindness, and dementia. Death may even occur from the damage.

If detected early, Syphilis is easily treatable with antibiotics. Physicians can detect the disease with a simple but accurate blood test. Through an STD grant, my colleagues at the Cincinnati Health Department can provide free testing for Syphilis at the Ambrose Clement Health Center, 3101 Burnet Avenue, (513) 357-7301.

Syphilis transmission can be reduced by the use of latex condoms. But the only sure way to prevent the spread of Syphilis is to abstain from sexual contact or have sexual contact only with one long term partner who has been tested and is known not to have the disease.

Coincidentally, April is STD Awareness Month. If you need any additional information on Syphilis or any other STD, please contact our nurses, Chandra or Betsy, at the Norwood City Health Department at 513-458-4600 or at the following email: Chandra and Betsy are also able to provide health education on other communicable and chronic diseases as well.

Pamela Walker-Bauer, MPH, RS
Norwood City Health Commissioner