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Syphilis outbreak hits Johnson County

– An outbreak of syphilis cases among young people is alarming health officials in Johnson County.

Dr. Craig Moorman, the Johnson County health officer, says the county has 25 confirmed or suspected cases of the disease. He tells the Daily Journal that most of those infected are in their mid-teens to mid-20s.

Indiana has seen increases in cases of primary and secondary syphilis in recent years. The number of reported cases jumped from 140 in 2008 to 175 in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A majority of those cases have occurred in Marion County, which saw a three-year outbreak starting in 2007 that prompted concerns that Indianapolis was at risk of repeating its dubious 1999 distinction of leading the nation in new syphilis cases.

The 1999 outbreak prompted an extensive education and screening campaign.

Moorman said his department began noticing the increase in cases after being notified by the Bell Flower Clinic, which is part of the Marion County Health Department.

Lisa DeVault, the Johnson County Health Department’s director of nursing, said people need to contact their doctor quickly if they believe they might be infected.

“It’s very crucial to get treatments within the first year of being diagnosed. Otherwise, there’s long-term effects,” DeVault said.

Short-term symptoms of syphilis can include sores, rashes, hair loss, headaches and other flu-like symptoms.

Pregnant women can pass the disease on to their unborn children, causing birth defects or stillbirths, DeVault said.

Untreated cases have been known to cause dementia and death.

Syphilis can be treated with antibiotics. That treatment is most effective if administered within the first year of infection, DeVault said.