Syphilis cases on the rise in Indiana


The number of infectious syphilis cases reported in Indiana increased by 70 percent between 2014 and 2015, and health officials are continuing to see an increase this year.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that, if not treated, can cause serious complications such as infections of the nervous system, heart, and bone, and can result in death.

From the Indiana State Department of Health:

State health officials are urging healthcare providers to educate patients about their risks of syphilis and to be aggressive about testing and treatment following a sharp increase in the number of infectious syphilis cases being reported across the state. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that is spread by direct, skin to skin contact during unprotected sex. Pregnant women who are infected can transmit it to their unborn babies.

“Indiana experienced a 70 percent increase in syphilis cases between 2014 and 2015,” said State Health Commissioner Jerome Adams, M.D., M.P.H. “We are continuing to see an increase this year and we are working closely with local health officials and healthcare providers to make sure patients are getting tested and receive treatment.”
In 2014, Indiana reported 168 cases of primary and secondary syphilis and 129 cases of early latent syphilis. In 2015, Indiana reported 285 cases of primary and secondary and 220 cases of early latent syphilis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. is seeing similar increases nationally.

In its primary stage, syphilis causes painless sores at the site of infection. As the disease progresses to the secondary stage, it can cause rashes on the body, hands and feet, hair loss, fever, muscle aches and weight loss. Many people infected with syphilis do not notice the early symptoms. Although these symptoms will go away on their own, it is important to know that the infection has not been cured unless it has been treated with an appropriate antibiotic. Untreated syphilis can lead to serious complications, such as infections of the nervous system, heart, and bone, and can result in death.

Untreated cases in pregnant women can result in miscarriage or stillbirth, preterm or low birth weight babies, bone deformities, deafness, seizures and other symptoms. It is important for women diagnosed with syphilis during pregnancy to receive treatment for syphilis at least 30 days prior to delivery to effectively treat the baby.

Syphilis is most infectious in its primary and secondary stages, but anyone with untreated syphilis of less than one year’s duration is considered able to transmit the infection.

Healthcare providers should talk with their patients about any possible exposures to early syphilis, as well as known risk factors. Providers should recommend testing for syphilis, HIV and other STDs and offer preventive treatment to anyone exposed to a case of early syphilis to reduce the chance of infection and the spread of disease. All those diagnosed with infectious syphilis need immediate treatment.

Indiana law requires physicians to test all women for syphilis when they become pregnant and to retest those at high risk for infection in the last trimester. All cases of syphilis must be reported to the local STD district office within 72 hours of diagnosis under Indiana’s Communicable Disease Reporting Rule, 410 IAC 1-2.5.

The CDC recommends that all patients who test positive for syphilis also be tested for HIV. For more information about syphilis, go to To see the CDC’s syphilis treatment guidelines, visit

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