Cole County, like Missouri and the rest of the nation, has seen a frightening increase in syphilis, a once-deadly sexually transmitted disease.
As we reported in a Sunday News Tribune story, Cole County has seen confirmed rates in syphilis spike from one in 2012 to 76 in 2018. Boone County also has seen exponential increases, but it still has only about half the cases Cole County does.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control said earlier this year that congenital syphilis has more than doubled in the past four years, reaching a 20-year high.
Syphilis is spread through vaginal, anal and oral sex. Missouri’s increase in syphilis rates initially was found to be in men who have sex with other men. Recently, the disease has shown up in all groups, particularly heterosexual women. And there has been an increase of syphilis being found in newborns.
The spiking rates of the STD has been blamed on increased promiscuity, prostitution, decreasing use of condoms, and unsafe sexual practices among men who have sex with men.
Cole County Health Director Kristi Campbell said social media — particularly “hook-up” apps — may play a role in the increased numbers of people with sexually transmitted diseases.
The bacterial infection has four stages, each with different symptoms. It was often a fatal disease until the availability of penicillin in the 1940s. Many famous people, perhaps most notably gangster Al Capone, have died from the disease.
So what can be done to decrease the rates of STD in general and syphilis in particular?
From a public policy standpoint, government already is doing its part. The county health department is working through schools to educate students about such diseases.
Education is a key. We have to continue to inform people, particularly young adults, that protected sex lowers the chance of getting syphilis, but abstinence guarantees it.
As a society, we also have to make it clear that we don’t approve of reckless sexual behavior that threatens not just you, but your partner.
Government can only do so much, and so can societal expectations. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of personal responsibility.