The number of COVID-19 cases may be falling in Daviess County but the number of syphilis cases are up.

“Our county and the Indiana State Department of Health are responding to a outbreak of syphilis. We have 16 cases right now including one newborn with congenital syphilis,” said Daviess County Public Health Nurse Kathy Sullender.

Most years Sullender said the county has just a couple of cases of the sexually transmitted infection that can present as round painless sores on genitals or lips or as a rash on hands, feet or the torso.

“It could also present with hair loss or smooth, white patches inside the mouth or on the tongue,” she said, adding the local cases have been linked to an outbreak late last year in Vanderburgh County.

Many times, Sullender said the symptoms of syphilis, which is caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, are dismissed.

“People just think it’s something else. It’s easy to test for though and it’s easy to treat with antibiotics,” she said. “There’s a simple blood test that can be done to check for it. The results come back in just a couple of days.”

Spread through sexual contact, Sullender is quick to point out you can’t pick up the infection from toilet seats or sharing drinks.

“That’s just not how it’s passed. It’s through sexual contact and it can be passed during pregnancy to babies. In babies, it could cause stillbirth or severe abnormalities,” she said.

According to the Indiana State Department of Health, those at higher risk for the infection include individuals who have injected or used drugs, especially methamphetamine, are experiencing homelessness or have been incarcerated or have multiple intimate partners.

County and ISDH offering free syphilis testing and treatment to help shutter outbreak

If left untreated, Sullender said syphilis can have some major side effects.

“It can cause mental health issues among other things if it’s left untreated,” said Sullender, adding the STI is currently more present in men than women.

The outbreak of syphilis, which can lay dormant, has also been linked to exposures of other STIs including HIV and hepatitis A and C.

To help stop the spread, Sullender said beginning Monday the Indiana State Department of Health will be at the health department to assist with free testing and educational materials. No appointments are necessary and testing is confidential.

“We have the highest number of cases after Vanderburgh County so that’s why the state will be coming here to help,” she said, adding no treatment will also be given through the health department and no appointment is necessary to come get tested. “The ISDH will be here helping through March 4.”

Daviess County Health Officer Dr. Merle Holsopple said stopping the spread is important.

“Ensuring easy access to testing and treatment is a key component to stopping the community spread of serious infections like syphilis,” he said. “We are committed to working with the Indiana State Department of Health to take services directly to parts of our community that need them most.”

The ISDH reports an increase in nine other southern Indiana counties including nearby Dubois, Warrick, Gibson, Spencer and Knox. Over 100 cases have been reported in the region and around 75% of those have been connected to the Evansville/Vanderburgh County outbreak.

Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday the health department will offer the testing from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. On Wednesday, those hours will be extended until 7 p.m.

“We will also be offering HIV testing,” said Sullender who said local public health workers will also assist in helping to contact partners of their exposure.

For more information contact the Daviess County Health Department at 812-254-8666.