Syphilis is caused by a bacterium (Treponema pallidum) and spreads through direct contact with syphilis sores during sex and in general. Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection. Syphilis sores can appear in the mouth and on the tongue and syphilis can be spread through oral sex. These sores can also occur on the penis, in the vagina and in and around the anus. They can be hard to see. To see what syphilis looks like and answers to frequently asked questions, click here.
Syphilis cases are on the rise in suburban Cook County (SCC) and other areas in our region.
Syphilis in suburban Cook County
Primary and secondary syphilis cases doubled in suburban Cook County, rising from 69 in 2014 to 146 in 2015. We don’t know all of the reasons for this increase. One reason may be smartphone ‘hookup apps’ have made it easier for people to locate one another for sex. Having sex with a partner you don’t know well can be risky.
Who is Most At Risk For Syphilis
40% of syphilis cases are ages 20-29 years old
25% of primary and secondary syphilis cases are ages 20-24 years old
90% of primary and secondary syphilis cases in suburban Cook County are male
57% are non-Hispanic Black
22% are non-Hispanic White
16% are Hispanic/Latino
What sexually active people can do to prevent syphilis
To reduce the number of syphilis cases, we all need to work together: health departments, health care providers, and everyone who is sexually active.
If you are a pregnant woman, a man who has sex with men (MSM), if you have HIV, or if your sex partner has been diagnosed with syphilis, you need to get tested. If you use hookup apps to find partners or if you have multiple partners, male or female, it’s important to get tested regularly.
If you need condoms, let us know. We will mail them to you. Use condoms the right way every time you have oral, anal or vaginal sex including hookups arranged through an app.
Talk with us
We’re here to help, not make judgments. We can also help you notify your partners or notify them if you aren’t able to. If someone from the health department is trying to contact you, chances are it’s important. Find out what they have to say. We want everyone who is sexually active to be as healthy as possible and to be infection-free – and stay that way.
Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics from your provider, and the earlier it’s diagnosed, the better. Untreated, syphilis can
- spread to others;
- make it more likely for you to get or spread HIV
- spread from a mother to her unborn baby and cause a miscarriage, stillbirth (a baby born dead), deformed bones, or other severe health problems
- cause other major health problems, even 30 years after the initial symptoms go away
What healthcare providers can do
Ask whether your patients are sexually active and offer testing for syphilis, as well as HIV and other STIs when appropriate.
Know how to stage and treat syphilis
Ordering the right tests (e.g., BOTH RPR and FTA) and staging and treating syphilis can seem complex, especially if you are a provider who doesn’t see syphilis often. Click here for IDPH’s staging and treatment algorithm. Download CDC’s smartphone app for treating syphilis and other STIs by clicking Android or iOS.
Give patients test results ASAP
The longer a patient with a syphilis infection waits for test results and treatment, the greater the chances are for the infection to spread.
Watch the IDPH lab staging webinar
View the syphilis lab staging training webinar from the Illinois Department of Public Health stages of syphilis, properly staging syphilis cases, understanding types of syphilis testing, interpreting syphilis laboratory reports and practice case studies. Syphilis poses a significant public health threat and staging the infection accurately is critical. It is staging that guides the appropriate treatment of the infection. Untreated or inadequately treated syphilis infection can result in devastating neurological, cardiovascular and organ damage. The purpose of this recorded training is to provide you with additional resources and tools to use when following up on laboratory verified syphilis infections.
Use our online toolkit
Health care providers can play a critically important role in helping to reduce syphilis in suburban Cook County. Click here to view our Syphilis Toolkit for Healthcare Providers for reporting requirements and Morbidity Report Form, staging and treatment algorithms, and information to share with patients.
What CCDPH is doing to help reduce syphilis cases
- Serving as a technical consultant for test ordering, staging, and current treatment guidelines
- Talking with cases, help them to notify partners, and help individuals reduce risk
- Providing condoms
- Educating the public, providers and ourselves
- Monitoring trends and intervene where we can
- Helping folks get into primary care
Updated June 18, 2019, 12:17 PM