New Hampshire health officials warn of syphilis resurgence

  • Dr. Eric Kropp removes a corn from a patient’s foot following an appointment at his direct primary care medical practice in Concord on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2016. “Simple things should be simple. That was simple,” Kropp said, adding that in the past an additional appointment and billing would have been required for the procedure. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz

Monitor staff
Published: 6/22/2017 5:54:47 PM

The sexually transmitted disease syphilis is making a resurgence in New Hampshire after almost disappearing a decade ago, and doctors are being warned to look out for it.

Health care “providers haven’t seen syphilis for a long time. It may not be on their mind to test for it. That’s one of the reasons we wanted to get the word out there,” State Epidemiologist Dr. Benjamin Chan said.

From January through May of this year, 42 cases of syphilis were reported, more than twice the state’s five-year average of 20 cases during those months, according to Chan’s office.

Early detection is important because syphilis can be treated easily with penicillin in the early stages of infection, but if left untreated can cause “very serious complications” and “can lie dormant in the body before it pops back up again,” Chan said.

The increase echoes a similar rise around the country and is happening alongside a sharp increase in another STD, gonorrhea.

New Hampshire received 465 reports of gonorrhea in 2016, more than three times the five-year average of 130 cases annually.

Chlamydia, the third most common sexually transmitted disease, is also increasing.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that in 2015, the most recent data available, the number of people suffering from at least one of those three STDs was at an all-time high.

The CDC attributed the increase both to changes in sexual habits and to cutbacks in state-level health programs.

It does not appear that the different bacteria that cause the diseases is increasing in potency or transmissability, Chan said.

“It’s not that the bacteria has become more resistant (to antibiotics) or stronger,” Chan said. “The cause is largely unknown, but likely it is directly connected to sex practices – having safe sex, the number of partners.”

In New Hampshire, the rise in sexually transmitted diseases is concentrated in the state’s southern and southeastern areas, which are by far the most populated portions of the state, and in men in their 20s and 30s.

The rise in syphilis is seen mostly in men having sex with other men, while gonorrhea is increasing mostly in heterosexuals, Chan said.

The increase in syphilis is particularly worrisome in New Hampshire because the disease is beginning to be seen in women. This is of extra concern because syphilis in pregnant women can be transmitted to fetuses, known as congenital syphilis, causing birth defects or fetal death.

New Hampshire has not identified a case of congenital syphilis since 2013.

Syphilis, like most STDs, can be transmitted through vaginal, anal or oral sex.

Chan said that safe sex practices, including the use of condoms and other barriers, are important. Also important is testing any sex partners of people with STDs, as they are at high risk of infection.

For more information on syphilis, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or

David Brooks bio photo

David Brooks is a reporter and the writer of the sci/tech column Granite Geek and blog, as well as moderator of Science Cafe Concord events. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in mathematics he became a newspaperman, working in Virginia and Tennessee before spending 28 years at the Nashua Telegraph . He joined the Monitor in 2015.

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