Houston Syphilis Outbreak
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There’s an outbreak of syphilis in Houston, in which cases in women have spiked 128%.

Heath officials are urging people to get tested, especially women who are pregnant.

In Houston and Harris County, there was a nine-fold increase in congenital syphilis – where a mother with syphilis passed the infection to her unborn baby.

Marlene McNeese Ward, deputy assistant director in the department’s Bureau of HIV/STI and Viral Hepatitis Prevention said: 

It is crucial for pregnant women to seek prenatal care and syphilis testing to protect themselves from an infection that could result in the deaths of their babies.

A pregnant woman needs to get tested for syphilis three times during her pregnancy.

In an effort to reduce and combat the outbreak, the Houston Health Department will wave all clinical fees for sexually transmitted infections at its health centers.

What Is Syphilis?

A bacterial infection usually spread by sexual contact that starts as a painless sore.

Syphilis is easily treatable with antibiotics. However, without adequate treatment, syphilis infection progresses to the secondary stage when one or more areas of the skin break into a rash – usually non-itchy and most typically on the palms and soles.

Other second stage symptoms can also include fever, swollen lymph glands, sore throat, patchy hair loss, headaches, weight loss, muscle aches and fatigue.

In most cases, syphilis goes undetected because the signs and symptoms are misinterpreted or simply unnoticed.

If untreated, Treponema Pallidum, the bacterium that causes syphilis, remains in the body and begins to damage the internal organs, including the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones, and joints.  

Who Should Get Tested?

  • Pregnant women at their initial prenatal visit, third trimester and delivery (required by state law),
  • People who have had unprotected sex
  • Men with anonymous sex partners
  • People with multiple sex partners
  • People recently diagnosed with any other sexually transmitted disease such as gonorrhea, Chlamydia or HIV.

Information on testing sites and syphilis is available by calling the department’s HIV/STD information hotline at 832-393-5010.

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