DHEC notes drastic increase in Charleston-area syphilis cases

COLUMBIA, SC (WCSC) – The number of syphilis cases in Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties has increased more than 200 percent during the past five years, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control reported Wednesday.

"The increase is seen mostly among black men who have sex with men," said Kathryn Arden, M.D., medical director of DHEC's Region 7 Public Health Office, which serves Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston counties. "It is very important that those in this group be aware of the risk factors for syphilis exposure and get tested."

Syphilis is an easily treated and cured sexually transmitted disease. Many people with syphilis also have HIV or a history of other STDs. Infections include primary and secondary cases, as well as cases where there is no sign of current infection.

According to Dr. Arden, almost 25 percent of the Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston county residents who have syphilis also have HIV.

"The first sign of syphilis is a painless sore that heals on its own," Dr. Arden said. "Many people do not recognize this initial sign of syphilis because the sore heals without treatment. The second stage of syphilis can cause a rash on the body, the hands or feet and hair loss."

Dr. Arden said DHEC urges those at risk to be tested by their health care provider or at one of DHEC's public health clinics.

To make an appointment at a public health clinic in Berkeley, Charleston or Dorchester counties, call (843) 953-0090. For statewide referrals and information, call the S.C. AIDS/STD Hotline at 1-800-322-2437.

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