Nashville Identifies Increase In Infectious Syphilis

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Metro Public Health Department’s sexually transmitted disease investigators say syphilis cases have more than doubled in Nashville over the past two years. The Health Department is alerting community medical providers and increasing efforts to encourage those who might be at risk to be tested. The Health Department’s STD clinic will also offer longer operating hours -- from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday beginning April 14.

“The Health Department closely monitors syphilis cases and we respond when an increase in cases is identified,” said Brad Beasley, STD/HIV Program Director for the Metro Public Health Department. “Testing and treatment are two important strategies to prevent further spread of the disease.” Beasley said.

From a low of 15 cases in 2004, infectious syphilis cases have been climbing steadily in recent years. The total for years 2005-2006 was 58 cases, and for 2007-2008 it was 147, reflecting a doubling in rates of primary and secondary syphilis.

Although a high proportion of cases in recent years have been in men who have sex with men, recent cases include increasing numbers of women. In 2008, the ratio of cases in males to those in females was 5 to 1. This year to date, the ratio is only 2 to 1.


“Syphilis is a great concern because of the connection with HIV infection,” said Dr. William Paul, Director of Metro Public Health Department. “People living with HIV are more susceptible to syphilis infection. Also, untreated syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases increase the risk of spreading HIV.”

Of the new cases diagnosed since last November, 22 percent were in people known to have HIV prior to becoming infected with syphilis.

Health Department investigators say the risk of being infected with syphilis increases among those having sex for drugs or money, and having anonymous sex partners.

The symptoms of early syphilis include sores which may at times be easy to disregard or miss, and rashes. The sores and rashes can be very mild, or they can be obvious and raise immediate concern. “People who are at risk should get a test,” said Beasley.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that is treated with penicillin or other antibiotics. The Health Department’s STD clinic, located at 311 23rd Avenue North, offers free confidential testing and treatment. Currently, the STD Clinic opens at 8 a.m. Monday through Friday, and registers patients on a first come, first served basis until 3:30 each day except Tuesdays, when the cutoff time is 4:30.