Syphilis on the rise among heterosexuals

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department has seen nearly 12 cases so far this year, up from 0 in 2015.

The following is a press release from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department:

Washington State Department of Health and Public Health-Seattle & King County issued health advisories last week about the alarming rise of syphilis among heterosexuals, particularly pregnant women or people living homeless.

In 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, the syphilis rate among heterosexuals in Pierce County was nearly five times higher than in 2016. A large proportion of heterosexual syphilis cases across Washington are among people living homeless. In Pierce County, a third of heterosexual syphilis cases are among heterosexuals living homeless.

The rise in syphilis among heterosexuals resulted in an increase in congenital syphilis. Congenital syphilis can result in miscarriage, neonatal death, preterm delivery and long-term health problems for the affected child. The congenital syphilis rate in the United States more than doubled from 2016 to 2018. Pierce County syphilis cases increased from two cases during 2015 to 2017 to seven cases in the last two years.

Nearly half of Pierce County congenital syphilis cases occurred among infants of mothers who did not receive prenatal care or who entered prenatal care late. We recommend testing pregnant women for syphilis at 24-28 weeks gestation, along with other routine labs. Test pregnant women not engaged in routine prenatal care whenever and wherever they engage with the healthcare system (e.g., emergency department, jail, urgent care, labor and delivery, clinic visits).