Sep 15, 2022 - News

Syphilis cases rise among Polk County women

Reproduced from Polk County Health Department; Chart: Axios Visuals

Syphilis cases spiked in Polk County in 2021, with some of the most dramatic increases occurring in women, according to a recent report by the county health department.

Why it matters: That spike is fueling an increase in congenital syphilis, which affects a fetus during pregnancy.

  • Congenital syphilis has been rare in Iowa with only 10 cases in the last decade.
  • But in 2021, there were 11 cases — signaling that some women are not getting needed prenatal care.

State of play: Syphilis infections are historically most predominant among men who have sex with men.

  • But in 2021, women made up 26% of Polk County's total cases up from 15% in 2020.

Zoom out: While men still make up the majority of infections, cases among gay and bisexual men have decreased over the years.

  • Meanwhile, they've gone up nationwide in heterosexual women, The New York Times reports.

Between the lines: A contributing factor is an increase in opioid and methamphetamine abuse, which contributes to riskier behavior among all genders, like unprotected sex.

  • Women who are using substances may also be less likely to seek prenatal care out of fear of being drug tested and losing custody of their child.

The big picture: Beyond substance abuse, there's a whole slew of reasons infections are increasing, including misdiagnosis, lack of sex ed and barriers to healthcare access.

The bottom line: Iowans should be getting tested every time they have a new sexual partner, spokesperson for the Polk County Health Department Nola Davis Aigner said.

  • And people in monogamous relationships should still be getting STD tested annually, said Davis Aigner.

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