Syphilis Outbreak Reported in Chicago's Roseland Neighborhood

CDPH said that between Sept. 9 and Nov. 4, five confirmed syphilis cases were diagnosed.

An outbreak of syphilis has been reported by the Chicago Department of Public Health in the city's Roseland neighborhood, the department confirmed Wednesday.

The outbreak is being investigated "among older heterosexual men," according to CDPH, which noted 2020 data indicated 919 reported primary and secondary syphilis cases in the city, a 13 percent increase from the same period in 2019.

While data for all of 2021 is not yet complete, CDPH said that between Sept. 9 and Nov. 4, 2021, five confirmed syphilis cases were diagnosed among African American men who live in Roseland and reported having oral sex with women who engage in sex work.

The median age of those diagnosed with primary & secondary syphilis in the zip codes that comprise Roseland has gone up from 28 in 2019 to 34 in 2020-2021, according to CDPH.

CDPH has issued an alert to medical providers serving the Roseland area, urging routine screening of sexually active clients. Healthcare providers are being asked to identify and immediately report all cases to the Chicago Department of Public Health.

CDPH urges anyone who believes they have been exposed to syphilis or notices symptoms to get tested for it. Free testing for STIs is offered at CDPH's STI specialty clinics, including the Roseland location, at 200 E. 115th St., which is open from 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Mondays and 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Thursdays.

"Syphilis is passed during vaginal, anal, or oral sex," CDPH said in a statement. "The infection starts with a single painless lesion that develops within three or four weeks at the site of entry into the body, and often goes unnoticed. Even without treatment, the lesion will spontaneously heal, but left untreated, syphilis progresses to a non-itchy rash on the trunk of the body, palms of the hands or soles of the feet. Other traits of this stage include fever, headaches, muscle aches, sore throat, and fatigue. Syphilis is called The Great Imitator, as its symptoms can be confused with other conditions or get overlooked completely."

Additional information and testing site locations are available at the CDPH website.

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