Syphilis Outbreak In Washoe County

RENO, NV - It's a bacterium known as a Spirochete; magnified four thousand times it cannot be seen by the human eye.

But it is responsible for the sexually transmitted disease known as Syphilis; a big problem locally.

Washoe County's health department says the number of Syphilis cases has nearly doubled in a year.

“Increase in cases in other jurisdictions that surround us, California, Oregon, and Las Vegas, so we have been anticipating this for a long time and we worked on a Syphilis action plan and we experienced an outbreak,” says Jennifer Howell with Washoe County Health District's Sexual Health Program.

Howell says the disease is spread through sexual contact.

Once infected patients develop a sore within 3 weeks after exposure, it doesn't hurt and goes away within 6 weeks; you are contagious at this time.

In the second stage of the disease, a rash develops on the hands or feet or trunk of the body, there are white patches in the mouth, and the patient may have swollen lymph glands.

The person is still contagious.

In the final stages which develop one year out, the patient cannot infect another person but permanent internal organ damage starts to occur.

Antibiotics are used to treat the infection, but arthritis, brain damage, and blindness caused by the disease are permanent.

Howell says they are seeing Syphilis predominately in the homeless, IV drug use, and men who have sex with men populations at this time, but such groups can and do spread the disease to heterosexual populations.

The district says there are reported cases right now where patients are becoming infected not only with Syphilis, but also HIV at the same time.

Syphilis weakens the immune system, which allows the virus that causes AIDS to attack the body.