South Dakota Experiences Increase in Number of Syphilis Cases
South Dakota has experienced a "sudden increase" in the number of reported syphilis cases in the state, with five new cases reported since June, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reports. A total of three cases were reported in the state over the past five years. Syphilis cases in South Dakota had declined from hundreds of cases in the 1940s to about zero to three cases per year over the last 10 years. Lon Kightlinger, a state epidemiologist, said that the recent increase in syphilis cases could be due to complacency about the disease leading to high-risk behavior, such as unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners, according to the Argus Leader. "We've been in a phase of having syphilis eradicated from South Dakota in the last decade," Kightlinger said, adding, "When you have such low numbers for such a long period of time, people just don't think about it." Kightlinger said that the presence of syphilis lesions can increase a person's risk of contracting HIV because the open sores are an "easy entry point" for the virus.
Kightlinger said that a public education campaign about syphilis is not yet necessary, but the state Department of Health is monitoring syphilis patients and their sex partners to try to contain the disease, according to the Argus Leader. However, Kate Looby, state director of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota/South Dakota, is "more alarmed" about the increasing number of syphilis cases, the Argus Leader reports. "It's a tremendous cause for concern," Looby said, adding, "We've been aware that there are extensive outbreaks on the coasts, and it was only a matter of time until we saw it in South Dakota." Planned Parenthood has been placing educational signs about syphilis in men's restrooms in Sioux Falls bars and casinos since September, but Looby said that her group should be doing more, according to the Argus Leader. "It would be hard for me to say that we're doing enough, because we're continuing to see so many patients that have sexually transmitted diseases," she said. Kightlinger said that he is "optimistic" about containing syphilis in the state, adding, "I think we should be able to bring our numbers back down to zero again for the new year" (Shouse, Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 11/4).