RENO, Nev. (Mynews4.com & KRNV) -- There's a syphilis outbreak in Washoe County, and it is linked to more cases of HIV, according to the district Health Department. But it is affecting one demographic, in particular.
Thirty-two cases of primary syphilis were reported in 2013. Jennifer Howell is the Sexual Health Program Coordinator at the Washoe County Health Department, and she says this outbreak is seen in a particular group. "It's seen among men who have sex with men."
Howell also said those who contract syphilis are also at greater risk of getting infected with HIV. "Among men who have sex with men, most of the cases we have, over 50% are also co-infected with HIV."
She says 2012 saw 20 cases of HIV, and 25 cases in 2013. So what's the link? Syphilis is a bacterial STD which means it is curable, but it has three different stages of infection. The primary stage may include long-lasting, painless sores. The secondary stage may show rashes and lesions on the torso and hands. When those symptoms disappear, the latent stage kicks in.
"That's when it'll do internal damage to the body, which can be blindness, affect the brain, go into the nervous system," Howell said.
Also, syphilis breaks the skin thus putting you at risk for infection. "Then, your chances are about 3-5 times more likely to get infected with HIV."
Howell says STD outbreaks can be prevented if sexual partners are honest about their sexual history, use condoms, and get tested.
"There's a lot of stigma that comes with talking about STD's, including syphilis and HIV. For us to protect our community, we really need to talk about it, get people tested, and have an open discussion, so these kind of issues can be stopped and can be prevented."
The Health Department encourages those who have unusual rashes and sores, or who are sexually active, to get tested to prevent the spread of STD's. The clinic offers walk-ins and appointments, and an income-based price scale.