Vermont Department of Health Raising Awareness of Syphilis Following Report of Three Unrelated Cases

DATE: March 14, 2006
Contact: Communication Office

BURLINGTON – The Vermont Department of Health is raising awareness of syphilis for all sexually active Vermonters and encouraging routine testing for this disease among high risk individuals including sexually active gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM). This follows recent reports of three unrelated cases among MSM in Vermont, as well as increasing numbers of cases among MSM nationally.

“Because the signs and symptoms of syphilis may go unnoticed or may be attributed to other diseases, it is recommended that all pregnant women and persons at increased risk of infection be tested, even in the absence of symptoms,” said Dr. Cort Lohff, State Epidemiologist for the Vermont Department of Health. “Testing can lead to early and effective treatment, which will prevent later, more serious complications and prevent transmission to others.”

Periodic testing is especially important among sexually active MSM. Testing should be done at least annually, even in the absence of symptoms. More frequent testing may be indicated for MSM at highest risk, and testing is advised for those with signs or symptoms of syphilis. MSM can get tested for syphilis at their healthcare provider. The Vermont Department of Health can also refer MSM to one of several clinics throughout Vermont offering testing and treatment at no, or reduced costs.

Syphilis is a sexually-transmitted disease that first appears as a syphilis sore (called a chancre). These sores, which are painless, can be found on the male or female genitals, anus, in the rectum, on the lips or in the mouth. Persons with this sore can pass it to another during unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex. Pregnant women with the disease can pass it to their unborn baby.

Persons who become infected may then develop a sore of their own. If not diagnosed and treated, the sore will heal, but the infection can progress to a rash and other symptoms. If these are not diagnosed and treated, the rash will resolve, but the infection can lead to much more serious complications later in life, including damage to the brain, nerves, eyes, heart, blood vessels, liver, bones and joints. Syphilis also increases the risk of HIV infection.

In Vermont, zero to one case of syphilis is routinely reported annually.

The individuals identified with syphilis have been contacted by the Vermont Department of Health to ensure that they are treated appropriately and that their partners are notified and tested.

For more information on syphilis and other STD’s please call the Vermont Department of Health at 802-863-7245 or 1-800-244-7639 (within Vermont), or visit our website at