YELLOWSTONE COUNTY, Mont. - Syphilis cases in Yellowstone County increased over 500% in 2022 versus previous years.
"We ended the year 2022 with 149 new syphilis cases in Yellowstone County for an increase of over 500%," Program Manager for Communicable Disease for RiverStone Health Kelly Gardner said.
Gardner said Yellowstone County averaged 28 syphilis cases a year from 2017-2021, compared to 149 cases in 2022.
"We want to destigmatize speaking about sexually-transmitted infections, especially right now with syphilis because it is so widespread and it has increased so much," she said. "We really want people to feel comfortable talking about it so that we can get people tested and treated and taken care of."
Statewide, syphilis cases are the highest they've been since 1948. You can see more information here.
DPHHS said there were 15 cases of congenital syphilis in Montana in 2022. Three of those were stillbirths.
"In a fully developed adult person, it can cause organ damage and death," Gardner said. "So, then, you consider a fetus who isn't even fully developed yet. And, that syphilis gets in there, it can very easily cause major disfunction or death in an unborn child."
Gardner said syphilis is very easily treated, especially in the early stages.
We asked Gardner why there was a big increase in cases:
"There are several things we believe are contributing to the rise in syphilis cases," she said. "One, is that during the pandemic, resources for testing and treating STD's were redirected to dealing with COVID. So, people weren't seen, they weren't tested, they weren't treated nearly as much as we would like just because of the redistribution of those resources. Another reason why syphilis has increased so much is because people aren't aware of it as still being a disease that affects people in our modern times."
More information about syphilis from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is available here.
"The symptoms of syphilis will come and go," Gardner said. "And so, often people don't realize that's what they have. They think that perhaps they had a skin irritation that has healed. So, they don't understand what they really have is syphilis and they need to get tested and treated for it."