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WDH: Increased Wyoming syphilis cases cause concern


CHEYENNE, Wyo. — With a marked increase in reported syphilis cases in Wyoming over the past few years, the Wyoming Department of Health is sharing prevention strategies to help protect residents from sexually transmitted infections and their serious consequences.

Reginald McClinton, Communicable Disease Unit Surveillance Program manager, reports Wyoming has experienced a 54% increase in reported syphilis cases since 2018, according to a WDH press release.

“There were 43 cases in 2018 and 66 cases in 2022. With syphilis, we have a particular concern related to pregnancy,” McClinton states

Dr. Alexia Harrist, state health officer and state epidemiologist with the WDH, said syphilis can be cured with specific antibiotics.

“Unfortunately, untreated syphilis can sometimes cause major health issues including death in both patients and unborn children,” she said.

“Up to 40% of babies born to people with untreated syphilis may be stillborn, or die from the infection as a newborn. We know this is preventable with appropriate testing and treatment,” Harrist said. “Fortunately, we have not had any reports of infant deaths in Wyoming due to this infection in recent years.”

McClinton noted the United States saw a 32% increase in syphilis from 2020 to 2021.

“Sadly, this resulted in 220 stillbirths and infant deaths across the country,” he said.

Per the release, Leslie Fowler, Communicable Disease Prevention Program manager with the WDH, said sores caused by syphilis also make it easier to transmit and acquire HIV infection.

“One concern we have is a potential increase in co-infections in our state, especially with syphilis and HIV,” she said.

“While sexually transmitted infections sometimes make their presence known through symptoms such as itching, burning, discharge or visible sores, most people have no symptoms. That’s why we always say the only way to know your STI status, for sure, is to get tested,” Fowler said.

Harrist said the WDH currently recommends all sexually active individuals get tested for syphilis.

“Individuals may need to get tested frequently depending on personal risk factors to help ensure they are diagnosed early when syphilis is easier to treat,” she said.

“Prenatal care in Wyoming should include testing for STIs, including syphilis, usually at the first visit,” Harrist said. “Repeat syphilis testing should be provided throughout the pregnancy when certain high-risk situations apply,” she said.

Per the release, these conditions include if:

  • The patient or partner has other sexual partners
  • The patient uses injection or intranasal drugs
  • The patient has unprofessional or homemade tattoos or piercings

Sex without a condom, multiple sex partners, anonymous sex partners or injection drug use are risks connected with the recent increase in syphilis.

Prevention strategies aimed at syphilis and other STIs include:

  • Abstaining from all types of sexual contact
  • Getting tested before starting a new sexual relationship
  • Before having sexual contact, asking potential sexual partners if they have been tested since their last sexual partner
  • Consistently and correctly using condoms with sexual contact
  • Limiting the number of sexual partners
  • Being routinely tested for STIs and HIV

The WDH offers detailed STI information, free condom resources and locations, low or no-cost testing, at-home testing options and STI treatment through www.KnoWyo.org.

Wyoming’s specific STI testing recommendations are based on risk and can be found online at https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/communicable-disease-unit/sexually-transmitted-disease/health-professional-resources/.