Colorado syphilis cases increased from 2014 to 2015

Mark Salley, Communications Director | 303-692-2013 | mark.salley@state.co.us
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Sept. 14, 2015
 
Men who have sex with men are most at risk
DENVER -- Colorado has seen a 56 percent increase in the number of early syphilis cases during January 1 to July 31 (255 cases) when compared to the same period in 2014 (164 cases). For the five-year period of 2010-2014, there was a 31 percent increase in Colorado syphilis cases.
 
Dr. Daniel Shodell, deputy director of the Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said, “The increase in syphilis is mainly affecting men, and especially men who have sex with men. Although rare, severe complications can develop at any time during syphilis infection. While the rate of syphilis in Colorado remains below the national average, I want to encourage anyone who thinks he or she might have syphilis or be at risk for syphilis to get tested by a health care provider.”
 
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that can cause long-term complications if not adequately treated. Transmission of syphilis occurs during vaginal, anal or oral sex. Pregnant women with the disease can transmit it to their unborn child. Using condoms and limiting the number of sexual partners can decrease the risk of acquiring syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections. Sexual partners, especially among men who have sex with men, should talk about risk of syphilis and other sexually transmitted infections.
 
Initial symptoms include painless sores, which occur mainly on the external genitals, vagina, anus or in the rectum — but can also occur on the lips and in the mouth. Later symptoms include a rash on the trunk and limbs, frequently including the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.
 
Symptoms in the nervous system or eyes can occur during any stage of syphilis infection. Ocular syphilis may lead to visual problems including permanent blindness. In Colorado there have been nine cases of ocular syphilis in 2015, two of which have resulted in blindness.
 
Among the 255 cases Jan. 1 – July 31 2015, 88 percent were among men who have sex with men. Forty-seven percent of cases were among people living with HIV. All people diagnosed with syphilis should be tested for HIV unless they already are known to be HIV-infected. The department has encouraged health care providers to test patients who are at risk for syphilis.
 
Recent news stories have suggested Internet dating apps may be driving increases in sexually transmitted infections. Nearly half (47 percent) of Colorado’s reported syphilis cases identified use of dating apps to find sexual partners. However, this does not represent an increase in the use of these applications among people diagnosed with syphilis. Use of these apps was a factor in 2014 and continues to be a factor in 2015.