MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 26, 2016

Syphilis cases rose in New Mexico in 2012

Syphilis cases rose to the highest number and rate in New Mexico since 1988, according to a recent report from the New Mexico Department of Health.

Doctors in New Mexico reported 101 cases of primary and secondary syphilis, a rate of 4.9 cases per 100,000 people. In 2000, the once common sexually transmitted disease hit its lowest point since reporting started in 1941 and officials said syphilis could be eliminated. The disease returned starting in 2001, particularly among men who have sex with men, and sometimes co-occurring with HIV.

"Syphilis is only infectious in its early stages, so primary and secondary cases are especially significant because that is when it's easily spread," Retta Ward, the secretary of the department of health, said. "When diagnosed early, syphilis is easily treated, most effectively with shots of penicillin."

Syphilis is often confused with other diseases. The disease can cause open sores in its primary stage and flu-like symptoms, swollen lymph nodes and a characteristic rash in its secondary stage. If untreated, the disease can persist for years and lead to severe brain and blood vessel damage. Babies born with syphilis to an untreated mother can can sustain serious and lifelong complications.

In 2012, men accounted for 91 percent of the primary and secondary infections in the state. Close to half of the early syphilis cases last year in New Mexico were among Native Americans and Hispanics.