Syphillis cases hit 'concerning level' in Minnesota: health officials

Minnesota health officials say the rise in reported syphilis cases has hit a "concerning level."

An annual report on sexually transmitted diseases and HIV by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) says the rising syphilis cases impact all communities. Cases of syphilis in Minnesota rose 33% in 2021, according to MDH. While the overall STD infection rates are harder to figure out as epidemiologists still figure out what effect the COVID-19 pandemic had on testing and reporting. 

"What we do know is that the rates of syphilis are troubling, especially the rise in congenital syphilis (CS), or when a pregnant person passes syphilis to an infant," Christine Jones, STD, HIV and TB section manager said. "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." 

Overall, MDH says STD levels in the state remain at historic highs with 33,706 cases reported in 2021, a 1% increase over the 33,245 cases that were reported in 2020. 

Experts say protection is the key to preventing the spread of STDs such as syphilis 

"People need to know they can protect themselves and their infants by consistently using condoms and by getting tested for syphilis and other STDs, and if positive, by getting treatment and informing their sexual partners," said Dr. Ruth Lynfield, medical director at MDH.  "Also, it’s important to remember that many STDs, including syphilis, may not have symptoms or may have symptoms that you miss because they mimic other illnesses. If you’re sexually active, especially with multiple partners, consider including testing for STDs and HIV into your regular health routine."