State and local health officials on alert over “alarming increase” in Indiana syphilis cases

Last Updated on October 31, 2015 by cassnetwork

INDIANAPOLIS—State health officials are urging healthcare providers to educate patients about their risks of syphilis and to be aggressive about testing and treatment following a sharp increase in the number of infectious syphilis cases being reported across the state this year.

Preliminary data show 357 early syphilis cases, or those less than a year in duration, were reported between Jan. 10 and Oct. 3 of this year, a nearly 53 percent increase from the 234 diagnosed during the same period in 2014. Most cases have occurred among men who have sex with men, but heterosexual cases are also being identified. The number of cases of congenital syphilis among pregnant women also has increased.

“This is an alarming increase in the number of people being diagnosed with a preventable and curable disease,” said State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams, M.D., M.P.H. “We are working closely with local health officials, Disease Intervention Specialists and health care providers to ensure that people are educated about their risks and receive early testing and treatment so we can stop this disease in its tracks.”

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that is spread by direct, skin to skin contact during unprotected sex. Pregnant women who are infected can transmit it to their unborn babies.

In its primary stage, syphilis causes painless sores on the genitals.  As the disease progresses to the secondary stage, it can cause rashes on the body, hands and feet, alopecia, fever, muscle aches and weight loss. If left untreated, it could cause blindness, deafness or neurological complications. Untreated cases in pregnant women can result in miscarriage or stillbirth, preterm or low birth weight babies, bone deformities, deafness, seizures and other symptoms. Many people infected with syphilis do not notice the symptoms, which will resolve without treatment. Syphilis is most infectious in its primary and secondary stages, but anyone with untreated syphilis of less than one year’s duration is considered able to transmit the infection.

Syphilis is diagnosed with a blood test and can be cured with appropriate antibiotics. Treating a pregnant woman also effectively treats her unborn baby. It is important that women receive treatment for syphilis at least 30 days prior to delivery to effectively treat the baby.

Healthcare providers should talk with their patients about any possible exposures to early syphilis, as well as known risk factors. Providers should recommend testing for syphilis, HIV and other STDs and offer preventive treatment to anyone exposed to a case of early syphilis to reduce the chance of infection and the spread of disease. All those diagnosed with infectious syphilis need immediate treatment.

Indiana law requires physicians to test all women for syphilis when they become pregnant and to retest those at high risk for infection in the last trimester. All cases of syphilis must be reported to the local STD district office within 72 hours of diagnosis under Indiana’s Communicable Disease Reporting Rule.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all patients who test positive for syphilis also be tested for HIV. For more information about syphilis, go to To see the CDC’s syphilis treatment guidelines, visit

Visit the Indiana State Department of Health at for important health and safety information, or follow us on Twitter at @StateHealthIN and on Facebook at

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