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Syphilis cases rising in Texas: What you need to know

According to the CDC, syphilis cases across Texas rose by 22% in 2022. One local physician says there are thousands of people who aren't aware they have it.

TEXAS, USA — Health officials are urging Texans, especially those who are pregnant, to get tested for syphilis as numbers have spiked this year. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), syphilis cases across Texas rose by 22% in 2022 from 21,476 in 2020 to 25,991 in 2022. That’s over two times more than reported numbers in Texas five years ago.

The CDC describes syphilis as a sexually transmitted disease infection (STI) that can cause serious health problems without treatment. Infection develops in stages (primary, secondary, latent and tertiary). Each stage can have different signs and symptoms.

Baylor Scott and White physician Tresa McNeal says there are thousands of people who aren't aware they even have it.

"Sometimes it shows up initially just as a symptom of an ulcer somewhere where the person might have been contacted sexually," McNeal explained. 

The CDC says the ulcer, or chancre, lasts three-to-six weeks, and it heals without treatment. However, if adequate treatment is not administered, the infection progresses to the secondary stage.

"You can have significant problems within the nervous system to the point of them causing thinking, hearing, and even walking problems," McNeal added.

Even unborn babies can contract the disease, health officials warned.

Texas A&M Central Texas Department of Nursing Amy Mersiovsky put an emphasis on pregnant women getting tested. She said it could potentially save a baby's life.

"Babies can be born with all kinds of neurological devastation, vision problems, and multiple defects if the mother has syphilis," Mersiovsky said. 

Some symptoms of syphilis include fever, weight loss and sore throat. Getting tested at least twice a year is recommended by health experts.

"It is actually is easily treatable with something as simple as penicillin if people know to seek treatment and get care," McNeal said. 

Pfizer has had a penicillin shortage since April 2023 but the company expects for that to end in the coming months.

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