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Syphilis rates in MN women spike higher than they've been in decades

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A spike in the number of Minnesota women with syphilis has health officials concerned.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, rates went up 63 percent from 2014 to 2015. A news release says they're seeing the cases primarily in women of childbearing age. And it's impacting all racial and ethnic groups.

Dr. Ed Ehlinger, the Minnesota Commissioner of Health, says in the release that the state hasn't seen this many cases for at least 20 years.

The sexually transmitted disease is most prevalent in the Twin Cities, with 87 percent of cases coming from the metro area.

Syphilis has been known to cause blindness, brain damage, heart problems and even death. According to the press release, the STD is particularly dangerous to pregnant women.

If a mother passes the disease to her unborn child, the baby could end up with a life-threatening condition. The disease can also cause stillbirth or premature birth.

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The department put out a warning last month to test all pregnant women for the disease three times – the first visit, after 28 weeks and at delivery.

Within the last six months, three babies have been born to mothers with syphilis. There haven't been any reports of infants born with the disease in the last four years, according to the state health department.

There is medication that can cure the disease. But the Center for Disease Control warns it won't reverse any damage it has already done. Ehlinger says it's important that people who are at risk for infection get tested so that the disease doesn't progress or get spread to anyone else. The health department says risk factors include drug use, multiple sex partners, infection with other STDs and having had syphilis before.

Syphilis is spread through direct contact with a painless sore called a chancre. The CDC says people often mistake it for an ingrown hair or other harmless bump. Weeks to months later, a body rash may appear.

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