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There's a syphilis outbreak in Houston. Here's how the city is responding.

New syphilis infections rose 57% from 2019 to 2022. The rise in cases is being seen among women.

HOUSTON — There's a syphilis outbreak in Houston that has the city increasing its efforts to reduce the number of cases being reported.

The Houston Health Department said this syphilis outbreak is responsible for a 128% increase among women. Congenital syphilis -- which occurs when a mother with syphilis passes the infection on to her baby during pregnancy -- has also contributed to the outbreak. 

Quick statistics from the health department:

  • New syphilis infections rose from 1,845 in 2019 to 2,905 in 2022, accounting for a 57% increase.
  • In 2019, cases among women totaled 295. In 2022, cases jumped to 674.
  • Congenital syphilis soared from 16 cases in 2016 to 151 cases in 2021, which is the latest year those statistics are available. 

Congenital syphilis can be deadly for a baby or cause a number of health problems, including deformed bones or blindness. 

How the city is responding

To combat the syphilis outbreak, the city is putting into place the following measures:

  • Waving all clinical fees for sexually transmitted infections at its health centers
  • Expand the use of its HIV/STD mobile clinic to increase the number of community screening sites. Mobile clinics will also be set up in areas considered hotspots, which are selected from disease monitoring and case management data.
  • Working with medical providers and collaborating with community-based partners to increase awareness of the outbreak and enhance testing and treatment

How is syphilis spread and what are the symptoms

Syphilis is spread through direct contact with a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal or oral sex, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Syphilis can also be spread from a mother to her unborn child. 

Syphilis infections often go undetected because the signs and symptoms can easily be missed or misinterpreted. 

Syphilis is easily treatable with antibiotics, however, if it goes untreated, the infection can progress from noticeable sores to skin rashes, mostly typically seen on the palms of your hands and/or the bottom of your feet. 

Other symptoms include fever, swollen lymph glands, soar throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches and fatigue, the CDC says.

People with syphilis are at increased risk of HIV infection.

Information on testing sites and syphilis is available on the Houston Health Department's website. You can also call 832-393-5010.

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