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Number of syphilis cases in Arizona reaches outbreak proportions

This 1972 microscope image provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a Treponema pallidum bacterium which causes the disease syphilis. A report released on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, says that newborn syphilis infections are surging to the highest level in 20 years. (Susan Lindsley/CDC via AP)

PHOENIX – The number of syphilis cases in Arizona has reached outbreak proportions.

“We have seen an increase, and what we’ve done this year is we did declare an outbreak among women and babies inflicted with syphilis in our state,” Dr. Eugene Livar, interim bureau chief of Epidemiology and Disease Control for Arizona Department of Health Services, told KTAR News 92.3 FM on Wednesday.

So far this year, eight Arizona babies have died from the sexually transmitted disease, doubling the total from 2017 and quadrupling the number from two years ago.

“We’re trying to get the word out and spread the message to protect yourself and to get tested and be aware of your status,” Livar said.

A blood test can detect syphilis, and the disease can be cured by antibiotics.

Including the eight fatalities, there have been 45 babies born in Arizona this year with the infection.

The babies born with it who survive spend an average of 10 days in the hospital and can have problems with their joints, skin, eyes, ears and brain.

Untreated syphilis in adults can damage the brain, nerves, eyes, blood vessels, liver, bones and joints.

Since January 2015, the monthly average of syphilis cases among Arizona women has risen 253 percent. In 2018, 637 women have contracted the disease.

Livar said abstinence is the best way to prevent contracting syphilis or other sexually transmitted diseases, but there are other ways to reduce the risk.

“Please remember that STDs can be prevented through using condoms when having any type of sex, reducing the number of partners you have and getting tested and treated for STDs,” he said.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, the first sign of syphilis is a painless sore that disappears after a few weeks. If left untreated, sores can return along with other symptoms such as swollen lymph nodes, hair loss and skin rash.

However, the symptoms may go unnoticed because they are mild or on parts of the body that make them hard to see.

“With syphilis infections you may not have any symptoms at all, and that’s one of the reasons you want to take those preventative steps to protect yourself,” Livar said.

KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Ashley Flood contributed to this report.

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