Alaska syphilis cases rise; first months of 2018 as high as entire year of 2017

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - In a public health advisory, state officials are warning of a sexually transmitted disease that, so far this year, is spreading almost as much as the entirety of 2017's reported cases.

The disease, syphilis, had 21 reported cases in 2017, 20 cases in 2016, and 20 cases in 2015. So far, in just the first two and a half months of 2018, the Department of Health and Social Services has seen a total of 20 confirmed cases, with the possibility of 2 others.

That means that Alaska will have surpassed last year's figures, while not even a quarter of the way through this year.

Syphilis is an infection that can be highly contagious, and is identified by sores or ulcerations. It can also be transmitted from a mother to her baby during pregnancy or during birth.

According to data gathered by DHSS, 80 percent of 2018's cases occurred in Anchorage, and 90 percent of those affected were men between the age of 20 and 63.

"Of the males, 80 percent reported having sex with other males (MSM)," the DHSS said in a news release. "Some patients have reported finding sex partners through phone apps (e.g., Grindr and Craigslist)."

A quarter of those infected this year with syphilis were "co-infected," or simultaneously infected with HIV at the same time, making the already dangerous contraction of syphilis even more dangerous.

According to the CDC, this is a national trend as well as an Alaskan one. The 2016 study of the disease by the CDC showed a 17.6 percent increase in reported primary and secondary syphilis rates nationally from the last year, the highest rate since 1993.

Generally, the treatment of oh syphilis depends on if it's caught early or late. Following a diagnosis, which is usually done using blood testing, patients can be treated easily using appropriate medication, usually a form of penicillin.