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Syphilis is on the rise in Cascade County

Syphilis Cases in Cascade County
Posted at 8:43 AM, Mar 27, 2024

Syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection, has steadily been on the rise around the country, and Montana is no exception.

In Cascade County, cases nearly tripled between 2020 and 2023:

  • 2020: 22 cases
  • 2021: 32 cases
  • 2022: 43 cases
  • 2023: 62 cases
  • 2024: 12 cases to date

Syphilis has four stages, primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary. Each stage has different signs and symptoms associated with it.
The primary stage often goes unnoticed due to the initial symptom being a painless sore. The sore usually lasts 3 to 6 weeks and will heal regardless of whether treatment is received. Erin Rollin with the City County Health Department explains,

“After about that first sore, about 4 to 6 weeks later, they might start getting some rashes. But again, that could be anything. Allergies, what have you. So, a lot of people don't know they're infected, don't know they're transmitting the disease.”

According to the City-County Health Department in Great Falls the main association with the rise in syphilis cases recently is a lack of people coming in and getting tested. Often this is due to the stigma surrounding sexually transmitted infections. Without getting treated, primary syphilis can turn into secondary syphilis.

Secondary syphilis is usually characterized by a rash in one for more areas of the body. The rash usually wont itch but can look rough, red or reddish-brown. Other symptoms within the secondary stage include fever, sore throat, hair loss, and headaches to name a few.

The third stage, known as the latent stage, is when the infection still resides inside the body but there no signs or symptoms present. The last stage, the tertiary stage, is very serious. This can develop 10 to 30 years after the initial infection can cause organ damage and lead to death.

Stages of Syphilis

“Another really big concern is it can be transmitted to the fetus from the mother, which can lead to fetal death. It can also lead to new abnormalities and deformities and health issues in newborns that are born alive,” Rollin explained.

Rollin told MTN that prevention is the best strategy in preventing transmission and spread of the infection. It’s recommended to wear condoms, reduce the number of sexual partners, and to get tested regularly. Syphilis is a curable infection with antibiotics. If caught early syphilis will be treated and leave no lasting effects.