The use of popular online dating apps is being pointed to as a contributing factor for the recent increase in diagnosed syphilis cases across North Idaho, as reported by our partners, The Coeur d'Alene Press.
Panhandle Health District Public Information Officer Katherine Hoyer explained that cases have been reported in all five of the counties that PHD monitors- Kootenai, Bonner, Boundary, and Shoshone. What's more concerning is that 81 cases over the last three month across the panhandle have been confirmed, compared to just 40 this same time a year ago.
"We've more than doubled the number of cases in the same time frame and when that happens, we want to alert the public," Hoyer said.
While the age range of infected patients has varied wildly from 20 to 60 years of age, there has been a common theme regarding how it has been spreading.
"Just like with any communicable disease, we'll contact these people that have tested positive to let them know, but also to let them know how they can prevent spreading it to others," Hoyer said. "We also conduct an investigation- we'll talk to them about their partners, ask if we can contact them to make sure they get tested in order to stop the spread of the disease."
During the course of these investigations, PHD has discovered that many of the infected individuals met on popular dating apps.
The Center for Disease Control describes syphilis as a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that can cause serious health problems without treatment. Infection develops in stages (primary, secondary, latent, and tertiary) and each stage can have different signs/symptoms.
While syphilis and STI's in general can spread easily and quickly, Hoyer says that they are also easily preventable.
"We want to encourage those that want to engage in sexual activity to be safe about it- wear a condom and get tested regularly if you're engaging with multiple partners,"she said.
Symptoms of syphilis or HIV that would merit getting tested include:
•Genital or oral lesions, especially painful ulcers
•Unexplained rashes, especially on the palms of the hands or bottoms of the feet
•Difficulty with balance or sudden visual abnormalities
•Numbness in the toes, feet, or legs
•Exposure to syphilis in the past 90 days
PHS clinics are located in Hayden, Kellogg, Sandpoint, St. Maries, and Bonners Ferry. For more information, visit www.panhandlehealthdistrict.org.
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