Medical professionals battle syphilis outbreak in Missouri

Medical professionals battle syphilis outbreak in Missouri
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According to a Kaiser Health News analysis of Missouri health data, the state is dealing with a syphilis epidemic.

At Choices Medical Services in Joplin, the caseload has grown from five cases to 32 in the first quarter of 2019 alone, compared with the same time period last year.

Senior nursing major Aubrie Dial grew up with values she admits most of her peers are missing.

“Society today is transferring to where sex is something that’s casually done,” said Dial, a student at Missouri Southern State University.

As an RA, Dial says she’s seen first-hand how easy it is for casual hookups to happen.

“I know I’ve had a lot of encounters with residents saying, ‘Hey, this person messaged me on this app. What do I do?’ and my answer is always, delete the app. Don’t. Delete the app.”

Technology may be one of the contributing factors to the outbreak of syphillis in Missouri, bringing in patients of all ages to sexual health clinics like Choices in Joplin.

“Because it’s such an upsurge of a disease that people thought was eradicated in the USA, many people are caught off guard and they aren’t testing as quickly, or looking at the symptoms as efficiently, as maybe they did several years ago,” explained Carolyn Schrage, Executive Director for Choices Medical Clinics.

A new report shows syphilis is on the rise across the state, more than quadrupling since 2012, up from 425 cases to 1,896 cases in 2018.

“For us here, just in our clinic, we’ve had a 1,067% increase in cases in just the last two years,” said Schrage.

While the STD is treatable, left undetected, it can cause blindness, death and birth defects. With so many cases, it’s hard to keep the antibiotic stocked.

“We’ve had a really hard time keeping the amount of penicillin that we’ve needed, of this specific type of penicillin, in order to treat the number of cases that have come in.”

Dial encourages abstinence and education, but realistically, encourages safe sex for everyone.

“I mean I can’t stop anyone from doing what they’re doing, but if you’re gonna do it, use protection.”

Schrage encourages sexually active invidiuals to schedule STI and STD testing. All services offered at Choices are kept confidential.

In Missouri, CDC annual funding for STD prevention has been cut by more than $354,000 from 2012 to 2018, a 17% decrease, despite the number of case increases.