MDH: Sharp rise in syphilis cases in 2021

Minnesota health officials say the state had a sharp rise in syphilis cases last year.

The state’s increase mirrors the national trend, which is affecting all communities, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

MDH is urging Minnesotans to take extra caution, get tested regularly and treated, if necessary, to help stem the tide.

The most concerning areas were around Duluth and in Cass and Beltrami counties, MDH says.

The department also noted a 115% increase in congenital syphilis last year, bringing the state’s total up to 15 cases in 2021. Congenital syphilis, when a pregnant person passes syphilis to an infant, can cause low birth weight, harm or death to a child if left untreated.

“We are encouraging people to get tested regularly for STDs, especially if they are pregnant,” Christine Jones — MDH’s STD, HIV and TB section manager — said.

MDH also said it’s still unclear what impact the COVID-19 pandemic may have had on behaviors, which makes it difficult to compare rates of sexually transmitted diseases between years.

“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,” Jones said.

However, despite the pandemic, MDH says STDs remained close to historically high levels, with 33,706 cases reported last year, up 1% from 2020. Overall, syphilis cases jumped 33%, chlamydia increased 3% and stayed the most-reported STD in the state, and gonorrhea dropped 5% but stayed as the second-most reported STD.

Additionally, MDH says new HIV infections increased 8%, with almost two-thirds of those new cases affecting communities of color.

More information can be found on MDH’s STD statistics page.

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