Wood County faces syphilis outbreak

WTAP News @ 11- Wood County faces Syphilis outbreak
Published: May. 25, 2022 at 9:08 PM EDT
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PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (WTAP) - Wood County is in the middle of a syphilis outbreak.

In response, the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department hosted a free syphilis, HIV, and hepatitis B and C testing event at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church on Wednesday.

The health department’s Clinical Services Director Rebecca Eaton said of the crisis, “We’re trying to head this off. We’ve been trying for several years now but it’s running rampant.”

It’s a disease that’s been growing in numbers in our area since 2018, according to Eaton. She said, in more recent years, Wood County numbers have almost doubled annually.

“We’ve treated as much as eight patients in one day. Historically, syphilis - people thought it was gone,” Eaton said.

The disease can spread through oral, anal, or vaginal contact, according to the CDC. Syphilis can also be passed down from a pregnant mother to her baby.

“If you’re an IV drug user, absolutely get tested on a regular basis. If you’re using sex to get your drugs, get tested on a regular basis,” Eaton said.

Syphilis is curable, however, it can cause significant damage if left untreated.

“Whatever organ it chooses to call home, it starts destroying. It destroys - if it goes to the brain, it destroys the brain. They can become psychotic,” Eaton explained.

The symptoms vary at different stages, however, one of the first symptoms is a painless lump anywhere on your body.

Eaton said, “Syphilis can be stopped at the phase at which we find it. We can’t undo the damage that’s already done to the body but we can keep it from getting worse…,”

Syphilis numbers have also been rising in Washington County, however not enough to be considered an outbreak. Still, a local health official warns that it’s an area of concern.

Last year, Washington County saw six reported cases. So far this year, the area’s seen five. That’s according to Haylea Hatten, the HIV STD Program Coordinator for Portsmouth City Health Department.

Local health officials tell us syphilis has been on the rise in both West Virginia and Ohio in recent years. However it’s not evenly spread throughout the states. It’s been more prevalent in specific areas.

According to Marietta/Belpre Health Department’s Nursing Director Dianna Beck, since 2019, Ohio has seen a 45.9% increase in adult cases and a 152% increase in babies born with it.

Eaton said, “We have had several babies born to syphilis positive moms. They were treated immediately but it can take up to five years before babies will show symptoms....so the damage can be done and nobody knows it for a while.”

For more information on syphilis, below is a link to the CDC’s information.


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