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OCCHD and OSDH Addressing Syphilis Outbreak

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Oklahoma City-County Health Department (OCCHD) and Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) confirmed today an outbreak of more than 75 diagnosed syphilis cases in Oklahoma County connected to a specific social network between the ages of 14 and 47 years old. The most common risk factors associated with this increase include drug use, exchanging sex for money or drugs, or having multiple sex partners.

Due to the rise in diagnosed syphilis cases along with the increased risk of still births from congenital syphilis, OSDH and OCCHD have activated their outbreak response procedures. This includes targeted investigations, testing and treatment.

Any person, regardless of age, can be infected with syphilis by direct contact of a syphilis sore during vaginal, anal or oral sex. Sores can be found around the penis, vagina, anus or in the mouth. It can even spread from an infected mother to her unborn baby, which can lead to loss of the pregnancy, low birth weight or death of the baby shortly after birth.

Syphilis has different stages of infection called primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary, and there are different signs and symptoms associated with each stage. A person with primary syphilis generally has a sore or sores at the original infection site. These sores can be firm, round and painless. Secondary syphilis symptoms include skin rash, swollen lymph nodes and fever. The signs and symptoms of early syphilis can be mild and might not be noticed. During the latent stage, there are no signs or symptoms. Tertiary or third-level syphilis is associated with severe medical problems impacting the heart, brain and other organs.

It’s important to go to your healthcare provider immediately if you think you have syphilis, even if signs/symptoms go away. With the right antibiotics, syphilis can be cured. However, treatment might not undo any damage already caused by the infection.

Persons should follow the below tips to reduce the risk of spreading syphilis or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

  • Being in a long-term monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested for syphilis and does not have syphilis is the best way to avoid syphilis.
  • If a sexual partner is currently infected with syphilis or has recently undergone treatment, abstain from vaginal, anal or oral sex until a healthcare provider states the person is no longer contagious.
  • Use latex condoms every time you have sex. Sometimes sores occur in areas not covered by a condom. Contact with these sores can still transmit the infection.
  • Have an open and honest conversation with your healthcare provider and ask whether you should be tested for syphilis and/or other STIs. All pregnant women should be tested for syphilis at their first prenatal visit and again during their third trimester.

If you or someone you know thinks they might have syphilis or a STI, visit one of OCCHD’s three clinics, which are open and fully equipped for STI screening, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to noon on Friday. OCCHD currently offers free and confidential, same-day STI appointments with limited same-day lab results identified through a mixture of blood draws and swabs.