Syphilis cases are on the rise in Douglas County, according to public health officials.
Nine cases have been reported since Jan. 1, compared to one for all of 2013, Douglas County Public Health Division Director Dawnelle Marshall said.
“In Douglas County, we typically see about one case of syphilis each year,” Marshall said. She said the number of cases has also increased in Lane and Multnomah counties.
Left untreated, the sexually transmitted disease can lead to paralysis, numbness, blindness, dementia and death. Initial symptoms include unusual body rashes or sores in the mouth or genital areas.
Marshall said anyone with those symptoms should stop having sex and see a medical care provider immediately.
Marshall said the cause of the recent outbreak is unknown, but about half the cases have been in women and half in men.
“We are continuing to investigate what the source case is. We’re still in the investigation phase of the large picture of figuring out why it’s increased,” she said.
She said halting the spread has been complicated by the fact that many of those diagnosed are uncertain which partners may have infected them.
“Our positive cases have a number of sexual partners, so it’s difficult sometimes to find people,” she said.
Doctors, laboratories and jails are required to report syphilis cases to the health department. She said physicians or health officials then contact those with the illness and ask them to identify sexual partners. The identity of the sick person is kept confidential, but partners are notified and encouraged to seek testing.
Health officials say the surest way to prevent syphilis is to abstain from sex. Other preventive measures include avoiding sex with anonymous partners, using a condom, asking partners to be tested for the disease and avoiding sex with partners who have unusual rashes or sores. People with new or multiple sex partners should ask their doctors about screening for the illness.
Health officials also recommend screening for pregnant women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pregnant mothers can pass syphilis to their babies, which can lead to organ problems, premature births or death.
Syphilis can be identified with a blood test and cured with antibiotics, but treatment will not undo damage the infection has already caused or prevent contracting the disease again.
The county has also seen a spike in gonorrhea cases, with 15 reported since Jan. 1, compared to an average of fewer than two cases a year.
Gonorrhea symptoms can include painful burning during urination or discharge. The symptoms are sometimes mistaken for bladder or vaginal infections in women.
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.