December 14, 2021

State agency aiding SW Indiana county amid syphilis outbreak

Indiana Department of Health staffers have been working with the Vanderburgh County Health Department for four weeks - Indiana Department of Health

Indiana Department of Health staffers have been working with the Vanderburgh County Health Department for four weeks

Indiana Department of Health

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — Health officials in a southwestern Indiana county have turned to the state for help as they battle a worsening syphilis outbreak that began last summer.

Indiana Department of Health staffers have been working with the Vanderburgh County Health Department for four weeks, helping with syphilis testing, including at places such as the county jail in Evansville, where several cases have been found.

County health administrator Joe Gries said more than two dozen employees of the state agency have been working in the county on syphilis testing and contact tracing.

“We’re gonna be focusing on it until we do start to see things slow down,” he said.

Since the county's outbreak began in June, it has seen 63 reported syphilis cases. That compares with about 40 cases the county recorded each year during 2020, 2019 and 2018, the Evansville Courier & Press reported.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease, but it can also be transmitted through intravenous drug use and the county is seeing transmission through both means, Gries said. He said homelessness, incarceration and IV drug use are currently the key risk factors in the current outbreak.

Syphilis is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. Its symptoms aren’t always apparent and can progress for years, even decades, without treatment. But in early stages, it’s highly treatable with penicillin.

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