Houston Health Officials Declare Syphilis Outbreak

Poster for treatment of syphilis, showing text and design of an anchor and a cross. WPA Federal Art Project, between 1936 and 1938. Creator: Hans Erik Krause
Local health officials say there's an outbreak of syphilis in Houston and Harris County. The number of syphilis cases is up 97 percent over the same time period last year.

Lupita Thornton is the STD Program Manager for Houston's Health and Human Services Department.  She says from January through August of this year, 318 cases have been documented.

 That's the highest number since Houston's last outbreak in 2007.

"We have seen an increase of the infection throughout Harris County. And we are urging residents in Houston/Harris County to test and look out for signs or symptoms."

Thornton says one common symptom is sores or a rash, especially on the hands or feet. The most at-risk groups include men who have sex with men, people who engage in anonymous sex or who have had multiple sexual partners and people with other sexually transmitted diseases. Thornton says many of the confirmed syphilis patients are also HIV positive.

"HIV is easily transmitted when someone has rashes, abrasion to the skin. And so therefore, it's easily, easily transmitted, HIV is. And so what we're seeing is that a large — 38-40 percent of the population who are diagnosed with syphilis in the past eight months also are infected with HIV."

Syphilis is treated with antibiotics, but if untreated, it can cause long-term damage to internal organs.

The Houston Health Department offers free STD testing at several area clinics.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...