Syphilis cases rise sharply in Minnesota

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, STD's remained at historic highs

ST PAUL, Minn. (WKBT) — Syphilis cases are rising sharply in Minnesota, mimicking a disturbing national trend.

The Minnesota Department of Health announced Thursday that the state saw a 33% increase in syphilis cases from 2020 to 2021. That increase included 15 cases of congenital syphilis in infants, more than double the previous year’s case numbers.

Untreated syphilis can cause blindness, dementia, or even death. Preventing syphilis and congenital syphilis is possible with antibiotic treatment, testing, and education, health officials said.

“We know how to prevent STDs and HIV and we know how to prevent congenital syphilis,” said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, medical director at MDH. “People need to know they can protect themselves and their infants by consistently using condoms and by getting tested for syphilis and other STDs, and if positive, by getting treatment and informing their sexual partners.”

Two ongoing outbreaks of HIV have influenced the number of newly diagnosed cases in 2021: the Hennepin and Ramsey County outbreak declared in February 2020 and the Duluth area outbreak declared in March 2021.

Pregnant women should be tested for syphilis at the first prenatal visit, early in the third trimester, and testing may also be considered at delivery, health officials said.