*Rate per 100,000 population based on the U.S. Census Bureau’s population data as of July 1, 2003
Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum. Syphilis is most commonly transmitted by sexual contact with an infected person but can also be transmitted from mother to child in utero. Illness starts with an open sore at the site of infection and then spreads throughout the body. Early syphilis includes primary and secondary syphilis, and early latent syphilis.
Elimination of syphilis is an explicit CDC objective. Historically low incidence coupled with the etiologic agent’s role in facilitating human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) transmission and compromising women’s ability to deliver healthy children prompted the CDC to plan and implement the elimination campaign.
In 2003, the Indiana State Department of Health received 52 reports of early syphilis, for a rate of 0.8 cases per 100,000 residents. These persons were diagnostically staged as primary, secondary, or early latent syphilis cases.
The significant decrease in reported syphilis cases is attributed to the collaborative campaign between local, state, and federal public health agencies in Marion County to eliminate syphilis. This campaign started in 2000. The outcome of that effort was evident in the reduction of subsequent incident cases. The number of reported cases decreased by 85 percent between 2000 and 2003. This trend demonstrates significant progress toward syphilis elimination in Indiana. Figure 1 shows the number of cases for the five-year period 1999-2003.
A significant racial disparity exists between the white population and the black population. The race-specific rate for blacks (6.8) was higher than that for whites (0.3). Blacks contributed disproportionately to 2003’s early syphilis morbidity; 69 percent (36 cases) of Indiana's early syphilis infections were among this racial group.
The greatest number of cases and the highest age-specific rates were among those 20-39 years of age (Figure 2).
Only two counties reported five or more cases of syphilis in 2003 (adjusted for population): Marion (5.6) and Lake (5.0).
You can learn more about syphilis by visiting the following Web site: