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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — The infection rate of syphilis is increasing. The rate of infection has increased by 81% in Iowa, 28% in Minnesota and 34% in Wisconsin from 2016 to 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Across the country, syphilis infections increased over the same time by 52%.
Here are answers to questions on how to prevent and treat this infection:
"Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection spread by direct contact with skin sores," says Trevor Rich, M.D., a family medicine physician at Mayo Clinic Health System — Oakridge in Mondovi, Wisconsin. "The disease starts as a painless sore, typically on the genitals, rectum or mouth. After the initial infection, syphilis bacteria can remain in the body for decades before becoming active again."
It's simple and cheap to prevent syphilis infection. Health care professionals can treat and cure syphilis with antibiotics. It's difficult for people to know whether they are infected, and untreated infections have dire health complications later.
Several factors can increase a person's risk of infection.
The most prominent factors are:
The ultimate protection against syphilis is abstinence because being abstinent avoids exposure to infected skin sores.
However, if people choose to be sexually active, they can reduce their chances of infection by:
Two simple and easy ways are available:
Yes. However, people should treat syphilis as early as possible. Untreated syphilis infection can cause irreversible damage to many body systems.
Signs and symptoms include sores on or around the penis, vagina, anus, rectum, lips, within the mouth or on the tongue. These sores are often painless, round and firm. Because these sores are painless, they often go overlooked.
Failure to treat syphilis can cause:
"If you feel that you have been exposed to syphilis, or you only wish to have reassurance with a quick test, see your primary care provider," Dr. Rich says. "Responsible sexual practices and personal health awareness will reduce the rising rate of infection in the community."
Mayo Clinic Health System has a physical presence in 44 communities and consists of 53 clinics, 16 hospitals and other facilities that serve the health care needs of people in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The community-based providers, paired with the resources and expertise of Mayo Clinic, enable patients in the region to receive the highest-quality physical and virtual health care close to home.