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Chicago Health Center Sees Rise In Syphilis Cases

CHICAGO (CBS) -- It's an old sexually transmitted disease we don't talk much about these days.

But one health center with clinics all over Chicago is seeing a dramatic jump in syphilis cases among its patients. CBS 2's Jim Williams has tonight's health watch.

"This is still something that affects the community and needs to be paid attention to," said Laura Rusie.

Laura Rusie is the coauthor of a report that shows among patients at the eight Howard Brown clinics, syphilis cases have gone up 3 percent a year since 2010.

"We're seeing an increase and so we want to keep our eye on it and come up with innovative ways we can get ahead of this," Rusie said.

The Howard Brown reports said in 2016 alone, its clinics detected 303 new syphilis cases - a 28 percent increase from the previous year.

University of Chicago professor John Schneider, medical director of Howard Brown's Hyde Park clinic,
said with more effective treatments for HIV, perhaps some are not taking an old sexually transmitted disease as seriously as they should.

"So if there's not that concern people may not use condoms; they may engage with partners who they don't know their status and so these other STIs can be there," Schneider said.

Syphilis can easily be treated in the early stages. But left untreated it can have serious health consequences.

"In someone who's had it a very long time it cause your brain to stop working and big time problems with your heart and vessels around the heart. Big message here is don't ignore. Absolutely don't ignore it," Schneider said.

The Howard Brown Health Center report points to another reason for the increase in reported syphilis cases - more people are being tested there.

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