Minnesota's annual STD report shows 23% increase in syphilis cases

Minnesota health officials are concerned with the increase in syphilis cases. According to the Minnesota Department of Health’s annual sexually transmitted diseases report, 1,127 syphilis cases were reported in 2019, a 23% increase from 2018.

With the rise of syphilis cases in Minnesota and across the United States, the surveillance for the disease has been improved for a more detailed picture of syphilis data and hotspot areas, according MDH State Epidemiologist and Medical Director Dr. Ruth Lynfield.

State epidemiologists recently implemented a new method for outbreak detection that examines an average of syphilis rates over a longer period of time. This is a more sophisticated surveillance method that will also be used to monitor disease trends around the state.

Similar to trends in other states, Minnesota health officials found that cases, particularly in females, pregnant people, and men who have sex with men, have continued to rise across counties.

The syphilis outbreak in north-central Minnesota since 2016 continues. Cases have also increased in the Twin Cities metro. New infections are particularly affecting:

  • Females, especially those who are pregnant or of childbearing age.
  • Males, particularly among men who have sex with men.
  • People who inject drugs.
  • People experiencing homelessness.
  • People co-infected with HIV and hepatitis A and C.

Congenital syphilis, or syphilis in a fetus or infant at birth, cases are also increasing in Minnesota. In 2019, 21 cases were reported, representing a 110% increase from 2018 and the highest ever reported in Minnesota. It can cause serious complications such as miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, birth defects and infant death.

“It’s important to let people know that syphilis is still a problem, but that screening and treatment can help avoid serious complications,” Lynfield said.

MDH recommends regular syphilis screenings for people who are sexually active and for pregnant females.

2019 STD report key findings

There were 33,725 cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis reported in 2019 compared to 32,024 cases in 2018. There are disparities among communities of color and men who have sex with men.

  • Chlamydia: The number one reported infectious disease in the state, increased by 4% to 24,535 cases in 2019.
  • Gonorrhea: Remained the second most commonly reported STD in Minnesota with 8,063 cases reported in 2019, a 7% increase.
  • Syphilis: Overall increased by 23% with 1,127 cases in 2019. There were 385 primary and secondary syphilis cases reported in 2019, a 32% increase. Minnesota congenital syphilis cases increased in 2019 by 110% to 21 cases.

STDs are preventable through consistent and correct condom use during sex, getting tested regularly for STDs and HIV, and getting treated for positive results.

MDH provides STD screening recommendations, resources and funding to many community-based programs in Minnesota. These programs provide prevention education, testing services, supportive care and sterile syringe access. Additionally, the MDH congenital syphilis review board examines cases of syphilis transmitted to a baby and investigates how these can be prevented.

More information about STD and syphilis data, screening, and treatment can be found on the MDH website at STD Statistics.