This photomicrograph depicts a Treponema pallidum bacterium, a spirochete 5 to 15 micrometers in length, which is the causative agent of syphilis.
Health officials are attempting to combat a record number of syphilis cases in San Joaquin County after the area saw a 44 percent increase from 2016 to 2017, making it the second highest in the state.
“We’re just trying to inform the public as much as possible that this is a public health concern in the county,” Dr. Kismet Baldwin, a health officer with the county’s health services, told Fox 40.
“If you’re not treated you move onto the secondary stage and in the secondary stage you could have multiple sores like that but it could be in the mouth.”
The county’s incident rate was 50.9 syphilis cases per 100,000 people in 2017, with only San Francisco tallying a higher number. Officials noted the danger of syphilis includes a risk to infants, as the sexually transmitted disease can be transferred to a fetus during pregnancy.
According to the state’s department of public health, there were more babies born with congenital syphilis in California in 2017 than there had been since 1995, RecordNet.com reported. There have already been 16 cases of congenital syphilis so far this year.
Syphilis can be cured with antibiotics, but treatment will not undo any damage already caused by the infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), syphilis can be spread by direct contact with a sore during sexual intercourse or oral sex. In pregnant women, it can lead to low birth weight, stillbirth, or premature delivery. If left untreated, babies may develop cataracts, deafness, seizures or death.
Baldwin pointed to homelessness, changes in sexual behavior and a lack of access to proper health care as potential contributing factors for the increase, but said it’s hard to single any one factor out.
“It’s probably not going to end up being one thing, one specific thing,” Baldwin told Fox 40. “I think there’s a lot of factors playing into it.”
County officials plan to offer testing to homeless individuals beginning next month, with one program coordinator saying that the population accounts for 20 percent of the syphilis cases.
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