Sharp Rise In Syphilis Cases Has Minnesota Health Officials Concerned

State health officials say syphilis cases rose sharply in Minnesota in 2021.

The increase brings cases to “concerning levels,” the Minnesota Department of Health said Wednesday.  The numbers come from an annual MDH report of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV data. Health officials say the local increase mirrors a national rise in syphilis cases.

Health experts cautioned that comparing STD rates from one year to the next may be difficult because it’s not clear yet what impact the pandemic has had on behaviors.  Epidemiologists believe there may be more nuance behind the 2021 annual report data. “It may take time to assess and understand how COVID-19-related disruptions to health care access or health care seeking behaviors may have impacted and changed the screening rates of STDs and HIV, compared to the pre-COVID-19 era,” said STD, HIV & TB section manager Christine Jones.

Jones said the rates of syphilis are troubling, particularly the rise in congenital syphilis(CS) when a pregnant person passes syphilis to an infant.

Syphilis cases saw a 33% increase statewide, and a 115% increase in CS, according to MDH.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection usually spread by sexual contact.