Syphilis on the Rise in Northern Nevada

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RENO, NV - A potentially deadly disease is on the rise in northern Nevada, as a nationwide sexually transmitted disease outbreak arrives in the area. The Washoe County Health Department needs help from local health providers to bring down the numbers.

A microscopic strain of bacteria is responsible for the recent spike in an age-old STD known as syphilis.

"We are in outbreak mode," Jennifer Howell, Washoe County Sexual Health coordinator, said. "Our numbers have decreased since the beginning of the year, but that number can change at anytime."

In the last 12 months, the health department says the number of cases has doubled because syphilis is very contagious and spreading fast.

"Basically, people not having protected sex for vaginal, anal or oral sex and maybe not knowing partners and talking about sexual history," she added.

One of the biggest contributors is online dating. Howell says most people don't talk about safe sex when they meet online.

"A lot of times, not always, but there's increases in sexual outcomes and they might not be talking with their partners or potential partners about sexual history."

If you are infected, you're most contagious in the first six weeks. Symptoms start with sores often on your hands and feet or in your mouth. The sores then become a rash, and it is common for those who have syphilis to not realize what's happening.

"Since it's painless, if you can't see it, like it's internal, in their mouth, something like that, or if someone else doesn't see it, they wouldn't know it was there."

Howell says you are no longer contagious after a year, but if it's not treated, it could lead to death.

"Syphilis really likes to just do whatever it can do to wreak havoc on the body and it's curable at any stage but any damage that's been done can't be reversed."

The Washoe County Health Department is asking health practitioners to talk to their patients about their sexual history and to increase testing. If you are having unprotected sex, you should get checked every three to six months.