The Hawaii State Department of Health is investigating five cases of syphilis reported over the past five months, primarily on the Big Island.
On June 10, DOH sent a medical advisory to physicians statewide to raise awareness regarding this possible syphilis outbreak. Although most of the cases were reported in men who have sex with men in West Hawaii, cases related to this outbreak may develop on the other islands.
“While we know there are several cases from West Hawaii, there may be people who are infected and unaware of their illness, who have traveled to other islands,” said Luke Hasty, program coordinator for the STD/AID Prevention Branch of the DOH. “A blood test is the most common way to determine if someone has syphilis.”
Syphilis is a sexually-transmitted disease passed from one person to another by a specific bacterium during unprotected sexual contact.
Syphilis can cause long-term complications and/or death if not adequately treated, the DOH said. Early signs of syphilis, often a small ulcer or sore on the sex organ, may be overlooked as the ulcer is often painless and may go away on its own. Signs and symptoms of syphilis that develop later on often mimic symptoms due to more common disorders (symptoms such as skin rashes, mouth sores, fever, sore throat, muscle aches and fatigue) and are often missed or resolve without treatment.
Timely antibiotic treatment provides an effective cure of syphilis infection. Untreated syphilis infections can last for many years and result in damage to the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, liver, bones, and joints, ultimately resulting in death. Infection with syphilis also increases the likelihood of HIV transmission and acquisition.
Members of the public with questions or concerns about possible syphilis infection should contact their healthcare provider, or call DOH at 733-9281 on Oahu, 821-2741 on Kauai, 984-2129 on Maui, or 974-4247 on the Big Island of Hawaii.
See Thursday’s Tribune-Herald for more on this story.