Health & Science

Houston Health Department launches a rapid outreach response for a syphilis outbreak

The city is seeing a 128% increase in cases among women and a nine-fold rise in congenital syphilis in Houston and Harris County.

Houston Health Department Administration building
Houston Health Department
Houston Health Department Administration building

The Houston Health Department will be launching a rapid outreach response after reporting a syphilis outbreak in the city and Harris County.

Marlene Mcneese-Ward is the deputy assistant director at the department's Bureau of HIV/STI and Viral Hepatitis Prevention. She said while syphilis is easily treatable and curable, it has not gone away.

"I think people have been lulled into a sense of complacency. And we really just want to make sure that Houstonians have a heightened awareness about the fact that syphilis has not gone away," she said. "It's actually really increasing in our area."

New infections have a 57% increase from 2019 to 2022, according to the health department's data. The city and county are also seeing a 128% increase in cases among women and a nine-fold rise in congenital syphilis.

The Houston Health Department plans to increase screening opportunities in the city and all clinical fees for STIs will be waived at their centers.

The department recommends syphilis testing for pregnant women and people who have unprotected sex. They also recommend testing for those with multiple or anonymous partners, and anyone who has recently been diagnosed with a separate sexually transmitted disease.

"People may or may not even experience signs or symptoms," Mcneese-Ward said. "Anyone who's sexually active, we're really encouraging that they seek out testing first and then of course next treatment, if necessary, from their medical provider."