Syphilis cases in Ohio up 82% from 2016; some stillbirths have followed


By: Jake Zuckerman

Posted at 6:37 AM, Jul 05, 2022


The number of syphilis cases detected in Ohio jumped 82% between 2016 and last year, infecting thousands and leading to at least 48 congenital cases of the disease in 2021.


More than 2,900 people statewide contracted syphilis last year, according to preliminary state level data shared by the Clark County Combined Health District, which operates in the state’s hardest hit county. That’s up from about 1,600 in 2016.


Similarly, congenital (spread from mother to fetus) cases of syphilis increased by 269% between 2016 and 2021 statewide, up from 13 cases to 48, the department said. Experts say this can lead to serious and permanent health consequences for the infants.


The Ohio Department of Health does not track congenital syphilis deaths in its annual report, a spokesman said.


A previous ODH report on the subject said two syphilitic stillbirths occurred statewide between 2016 and 2020. A Columbus Public Health spokeswoman said there have been at least one or two syphilitic stillbirths in central Ohio so far this year.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that’s typically transmitted through sexual contact but can spread in utero as well. It can be treated with antibiotics, but left uninhibited, it can damage the heart, brain, and other organs. Health officials say while the disease is preventable, it tends to spread among harder to reach populations, which makes providing care tricky given that proper treatment can require multiple care visits.


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