Syphilis outbreak in southwest Indiana

EVANSVILLE, Ind. – The Vanderburgh County Department of Health, with support from the Indiana Department of Health (IDOH), is responding to an outbreak of adult syphilis detected in a geographic area around Evansville.

Increases in syphilis cases have been reported in Daviess, Dubois, Gibson, Knox, Spencer, Vanderburgh and Warrick counties. To date, 21 cases have been identified in this outbreak, which includes adults with syphilis infections that occurred in the past year – most being in highly infectious stages (primary and secondary syphilis).

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that can cause serious health problems and can spread to the brain and nervous system if left untreated. To help prevent further spread of disease, the VCHD will offer syphilis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), as well as treatment for syphilis, at no cost to patients and their exposed sexual or sharing needles next week.

This community outreach plan will be conducted in critical areas throughout the City of Evansville with the help of an IDOH mobile unit and team members. The mobile units will help with transportation concerns and provide quick and easy test and medical options. Updates to mobile sites will be made available on the VCHD Facebook page next week.

“The Vanderburgh County Health Department is asking the community to take active steps to educate themselves about syphilis and the serious complications that can occur when patients are left untreated,” said Joe Gries, Administrator of the VCHD. The VCHD website includes information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the signs and symptoms of the disease and the extensive damage that syphilis can do during pregnancy to the unborn baby, as the infection can be shared in the womb.

Common risk factors seen in the outbreak include homelessness, exchanging money or drugs for sex, methamphetamine use, injection drug use, using social media / internet to meet partners and incarceration in the last year. Additionally, this outbreak has been linked to exposure to other infectious diseases, including HIV and viral hepatitis (hepatitis A and C). Anyone who has been exposed to syphilis or encounters any of the risk factors listed above should contact a healthcare provider for examination and treatment options.

Pregnant individuals should be screened for syphilis in the first trimester or at their first prenatal visit, between 28 and 32 weeks of pregnancy and at delivery. Testing and therapy for pregnant individuals are available at the VCHD.

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