The Franklin County Health Department is strengthening its efforts to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in multiple populations, including drug users.
The upward trend in infections statewide has prompted officials at the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) to issue a Public Health Advisory regarding the transmission of the preventable diseases.
The purpose of the advisory is to alert health care providers to the significant increase in rates of syphilis among multiple populations, including gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men; people who use drugs; and heterosexual men and women.
While the initial increase in cases occurred primarily in the Kansas City and St. Louis metropolitan areas, other areas, including smaller metropolitan areas and rural counties throughout Missouri, are also experiencing a steep increase in cases, particularly among people who use drugs and their partners.
According to January DHSS data, there were 15 chlamydia, six gonorrhea and two syphilis cases reported in Franklin County.
Nursing Supervisor Donna Vande-griffe says gonorrhea and syphilis cases have increased in the last couple of years in Franklin County and the health department is taking proactive steps to protect the citizens from contracting and spreading these communicable diseases.
“The Franklin County Health Department can screen for chlamydia, gonorrhea (when certain criteria are met), and test for HIV, syphilis, herpes simplex virus 2, and hepatitis C,” she said. “We can also provide treatment and follow-up services for infected clients and their sex partners who are positive for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis.”
Vandegriffe added the state has now requested a hepatitis A vaccine be provided to county STD clients who are in at-risk groups, which include those who use drugs, area homeless, men who have sex with men, in treatment or counseling for substance abuse, receiving drug substitution and/or drug court, or a person who works or has been detained in jail or a detention center.
“In the next week we will be sending letters to facilities in our county that have been identified as a place where at-risk groups congregate to offer free hepatitis A vaccine on site,” Vandegriffe said. “We will encourage these individuals to get screened for hepatitis C and syphilis; as these groups are at increased risk of developing these diseases.”
Despite the recent statewide rise in syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea have been the dominant STDs reported in Franklin County for the past two decades.
In the past five years there have been steady increases in each of the three communicable diseases.
In 2018, there were 287 chlamydia, 104 gonorrhea and just nine syphilis cases reported in Franklin County.
• 2017 — 331 chlamydia, 82 gonorrhea, one syphilis.
• 2016 — 272 chlamydia, 37 gonorrhea, six syphilis.
• 2015 — 267 chlamydia, 20 gonorrhea, five syphilis.
• 2014 — 231 chlamydia, 22 gonorrhea, zero syphilis.
• 2013 — 289 chlamydia, 31 gonorrhea, two syphilis.
The DHSS records go back to the year 2000 when there were only 75 chlamydia, 16 gonorrhea and one syphilis case reported in Franklin County.
Provisional data indicates syphilis cases in Missouri increased by 40 percent last year and overall cases in Missouri are up by 218 percent since 2012.
The number of early syphilis cases reported in Missouri in 2017 (930 cases) increased by 38 percent over the number of cases in 2016 (676 cases). In 2012 there were 292 cases reported in Missouri.
The increase in syphilis cases was initially observed among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, though other groups, including heterosexual women, have also experienced an increase in cases recently.
With the increase in cases in women, Missouri has seen a corresponding increase in the number of babies born with, or stillborn due to, syphilis.
In 2017, 13 congenital syphilis cases were reported in Missouri, representing the highest number of cases reported since 1998. Missouri has also experienced an increase in ocular syphilis, which can cause blurry vision and/or blindness. Syphilis can cause ocular and neurological issues at any stage of infection.