Press Release

October 6, 2006


Syphilis Cases rose from 2004 to 2005 in Illinois

Syphilis cases declined over a longer period in Illinois  

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director, today announced that reported cases of infectious (primary and secondary) syphilis increased significantly in 2005 compared to 2004. A total of 525 cases of infectious syphilis were reported in Illinois in 2005, a 36 percent increase over the 386 cases reported in 2004.

The increase in infectious syphilis is disproportionately affecting males with men accounting for 91 percent of all reported cases, and men self-reporting as men who have sex with men representing 76 percent of all cases among males.

“The Illinois Department of Public Health is very concerned about this increase in syphilis because untreated syphilis can lead to serious long-term complications and death. Also, persons infected with infectious syphilis can more easily acquire or transmit the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), the virus which causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS),” said Dr. Whitaker. “The Illinois Department of Public Health recommends that all sexually persons infected with HIV should be tested for syphilis and other STDs at least annually."

During 2005, 52 percent of cases of infectious syphilis among men who have sex with men were co-infected with HIV. Persons infected with both syphilis and HIV also are more likely to develop complications from their syphilis and HIV co-infection. Especially alarming is the 84 percent increase (from 19 to 35) in cases of reported syphilis with possible or probable neurological complications in 2005 compared to 2004.

Preliminary data for the first eight months of 2006 (January through August) indicates that infectious syphilis is continuing to increase in Illinois, especially in communities outside Chicago.

A total of 95 cases of infectious syphilis have been reported in 2006 in Illinois excluding Chicago, a 67 percent increase from the 57 cases reported during the same period in 2005. Communities with an increase in infectious syphilis in 2006 include: Champaign (1 to 7), suburban Cook County (26 to 39), DuPage (6 to 12), Kane (2 to 5), Lake (4 to 9), St. Clair (1 to 4) and Will (1 to 5).

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) is working closely with local health departments in communities with increases in syphilis to alert health care providers of the rise in syphilis cases and to urge sexually active persons at increased risk of infection to use condoms and seek routine syphilis testing.

“Despite the recent increase in infectious syphilis in 2005 and 2006 among men having sex with men, significant progress has been made in reducing the overall number of cases and rate of infectious syphilis in Illinois, especially among women and African Americans,” said Dr. Whitaker.

Between 1992 and 2005, reported cases of infectious syphilis have decreased 78 percent (2,380 to 525) and the case rate per 100,000 persons has been reduced from 20.8 to 4.2. During this period of time, the number of reported cases among African Americans decreased 91 percent (2,239 to 206) and the number of cases among females of all races and ethnicities decreased 96 percent (1,085 to 47). The dramatic decline in infectious syphilis cases among women of child bearing age along with efforts to increase the accessibility of prenatal care and prenatal syphilis screening led to a 94 percent decrease (396 to 25) in reported cases of congenital syphilis.

The dramatic decline in syphilis among African Americans and women in Illinois over the past decade provides evidence and optimism that the recent rise in syphilis among men who have sex with men can be contained with strong partnerships involving affected communities, public health and the private medical sector,” said Dr. Whitaker.

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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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