Syphilis cases are increasing nationwide, and Richland County saw the highest number of infections in South Carolina in 2012, according to federal and state data.
Statewide in 2012, 225 cases were reported, with 75 of those cases coming from Richland County. The next highest count was in Spartanburg County, which reported 22.
South Carolina ranked 13th in the nation — up one spot from the previous year, when 221 cases were reported. In the U.S., 15,667 cases were reported in 2012, an 11.1 percent increase from 2011, according to a Jan. 8 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Janet Tapp, who leads the STD/HIV division at DHEC, said the agency has staff, known as disease intervention specialists, who help to notify partners of persons identified with syphilis and offer screenings, any necessary treatment and prevention counseling. DHEC also contracts with four community-based organizations, including one in the Upstate, to provide syphilis prevention services, including education, testing and counseling.
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“Syphilis prevention messages and methods need to be emphasized widely and increased among all sexually active populations,” Tapp said.
Symptoms of syphilis include a firm, round, small, and painless sore on the genitals, anus, or mouth, or a rash on the body, especially on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The sexually-transmitted disease can cause long-term complications and/or death if not adequately treated. The average time between infection and appearance of the first symptom is 21 days, but it can range from 10 to 90 days.
Syphilis passed from pregnant women to their babies is called congenital syphilis. While there weren’t any of these cases reported in South Carolina in 2011, six were reported in 2012.
Babies born with syphilis can have many health problems. It can lead to low birth weight, premature delivery or even a stillbirth, according to the CDC.
“Syphilis is easy to cure in its early stages,” Tapp added. “When a person who is infected with syphilis gets tested and treated early in the infection, not only does he (or she) benefit from getting well, but also he or she prevents unknowingly giving the infection to sexual partners.”
No home remedies or over-the-counter drugs will cure syphilis, but syphilis is simple to cure with appropriate antibiotics from a physician, according to the CDC.
According to the CDC, correct and consistent use of latex condoms can reduce the risk of syphilis when the sore or site of potential exposure is covered. However, it is best to abstain from sex when any sore is present in the areas of the body used for sexual contact, the agency says.
Anyone who thinks that he or she might be infected with syphilis should seek advice about getting tested as soon as possible, Tapp said.