BISMARCK — Multiple clusters of syphilis have being reported in North Dakota, state health officials said Monday.
The cases of the sexually transmitted disease have cropped up across the state, most recently in Stark and Cass counties, and include infections among pregnant women, the North Dakota Department of Health said Oct. 28.
There have been 27 confirmed reports of syphilis in North Dakota in 2019. Nearly all are women, and of the 25 women infected, seven have been pregnant.
If a pregnant woman is infected with syphilis, it increases the risk of the disease among her newborn infant, specifically a condition called congenital syphilis that can result in malformations or stillbirth.
“Many of these infections among women were found during a routine pregnancy screening,” said Shari Renton, an epidemiologist with the Department of Health, in a news release. “We are urging women who are pregnant to seek prenatal care and receive syphilis testing. Congenital syphilis can be prevented through prompt treatment.”
The number of cases of syphilis have skyrocketed in North Dakota and elsewhere in the U.S. in recent years, since reaching historic lows in 2000-2001. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control finds that the reported rates of syphilis are the highest they’ve been in 30 years.
State health officials are encouraging sexually active women of childbearing age, or between 14-50 years, and their sex partners get tested for syphilis and other STDs.
Syphilis can be transmitted through unprotected oral, anal or vaginal sex and if left untreated can lead to blindness, brain damage, heart problems or even death, health officials say. Illicit drug use, primarily methamphetamine, is a growing risk factor for causing syphilis infections because it promotes risky sexual behavior, officials say.