Minnesota Syphilis Rate Continues To Increase; State Health Department Calls for More Screening, TestingMinnesota Department of Health officials on Tuesday called for an increase in efforts to screen and test people for the sexually transmitted disease syphilis, after a preliminary review of the state's 2003 health statistics showed that the state's syphilis rate is increasing at a "steady and alarming" rate, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reports. According to the preliminary data, 74 cases of early syphilis infections were reported in the first nine months of 2003, compared with 60 new cases during the same period in 2002. Of the 74 new syphilis cases in 2003, 69 -- or 93% -- occurred in men and 54 were among men who have sex with men. The statistics also indicate that the majority of new syphilis cases in 2002 and 2003 occurred in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan region. A recent CDC report found that Minneapolis had the 12th highest syphilis rate among major U.S. cities in 2002, up from 30th in 2000, according to the Pioneer Press. State epidemiologist Dr. Harry Hull said that one of the concerns about the rise in the number of new syphilis cases is the increased risk of HIV transmission, adding, "Part of the problem that we are seeing here is that, with all the effective treatments we now have, HIV doesn't seem as threatening as it once was" (Majeski, St. Paul Pioneer Press, 1/7).
Department officials said that the state needs to "take two steps" to fight the syphilis outbreak: encourage health providers to increase syphilis screenings and encourage more people to seek testing if they have had unprotected sex, including oral sex, the AP/Minneapolis Star Tribune reports (AP/Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1/6). Hull said, "Doctors need to be taking sexual histories of their patients and testing those who are involved in high-risk sexual practices. The hallmark of the disease is a lesion on your genitals. But it's painless, so if you don't look, you won't see it and you'll spread the disease to others." Hull added, "We are continuing to see new cases of syphilis, and that's extremely worrisome. It's a totally preventable disease. If you practice safe sex, you shouldn't get it. If you do, it can be treated and you shouldn't be spreading it to anyone else. Some people are not taking the safe sex warning seriously" (St. Paul Pioneer Press, 1/7).