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Health officials in Minnesota say syphilis cases have risen "sharply" since last year, putting Minnesota at a "concerning level."

According to an annual report of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV data from the Minnesota Department of Health, syphilis cases jumped 33% from 2020 to 2021. The increase mirrors a national increase, health officials said. In addition, 15 cases of congenital syphilis (CS) in infants were reported in 2021. MDH said that's a 115% increase from the previous year, where seven such cases were reported. 

Minnesota also saw an increase in sexually transmitted diseases from 2019 to 2020, Bring Me The News previously reported.

The annual report also expressed "special concern" related to a syphilis outbreak in the Duluth area, along with a continued increase in Cass and Beltrami counties. Cases have been discovered in the Twin Cities metro area, mostly involving men who have sex with men, the report says. The data also show an "alarming" amount of women who have contracted syphilis.

“What we do know is that the rates of syphilis are troubling, especially the rise in congenital syphilis, or when a pregnant person passes syphilis to an infant,” said Christine Jones, STD, HIV and TB section manager at the Minnesota Department of Health. 

“CS can cause low birth weight, harm, or death to an infant if not treated. It is preventable when it’s caught early. We are encouraging people to get tested regularly for STDs, especially if they are pregnant.”

The state's health department said syphilis can cause blindness, dementia or even death when untreated. 

STDs in Minnesota

Besides syphilis, the annual report tracks other sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, chlamydia and gonorrhea. Overall, from 2020 to 2021, STD cases rose 1%, remaining at "near historic high levels."

  • Chlamydia sits atop the list as the most-reported STD in Minnesota. 
    • Over 22,500 cases were reported last year, which is a 3% increase in comparison to 2020. 
    • A vast majority of the cases — 59% — happened amongst teenagers and young adults, ages 15 to 24. 
    • According to MDH, one in three cases occurred in greater Minnesota, with "at least" two cases reported in every county in the state.
  • Gonorrhea remained the second-most reported STD in the state in 2021. 
    • However, the STD showed a slowdown in 2021 compared to 2020. Just over 9,600 cases were reported, which is down 5% from the previous year. MDH notes there was a "substantial" increase from 2019 to 2020.
  • HIV infections increased 8%, with 298 cases reported, compared to 275 cases in 2019.
    • MDH uses 2019 data to better reflect a more consistent period of time, as 2020 included COVID-19 disruptions in HIV testing services and limited access to clinical care.
    • About two-thirds of new HIV cases affect communities of color.
    • According to health data, 9,697 Minnesotans are living with HIV/AIDS.
    • Two ongoing outbreaks — Ramsey and Hennepin counties, and the Duluth area — have contributed to the spike in cases seen in the annual report.
    • Hennepin and Ramsey counties have had an ongoing outbreak declared since February 2020. The Duluth area had one declared in March 2021.
    • Health officials say risk factors that are associated with these outbreaks are:
      • People who use injection drugs or share needles.
      • People experiencing homelessness or unstable housing.
      • People who exchange sex for income and other needed items.
      • Men who have sex with men.

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