Syphilis Hit Rural Missouri Hard, Surpassing Bigger Cities

Syphilis Hit Rural Missouri Hard, Surpassing Bigger Cities

Cities such as Kansas City and St. Louis were once known as having the largest syphilis populations, but a recent report from Kaiser Health News shows that the trend has reversed.

Today, rural Missouri counties are seeing a high number of syphilis cases, which is quadrupling the number of people with the disease.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services has charted the change in the last six years. In 2014, there were 180 cases outside the St. Louis and Kansas City regions, 410 less than what the cities were seeing. In 2018, there were close to 850 syphilis cases in the non-metro locations, which was just 194 less than both K.C. and St. Louis.

Several reasons are attributed to the increase

  1. Rural populations don’t have as many public health resources available to them.
  2. The departments do not have a lot of experience with syphilis.
  3. They are not willing to get a handle on it because of their conservative views of non-martial sex and homosexuality.

Small communities are made up of people who know each other, and an infected person may be concerned that word will get out about their status.

On top of that, funding is another issue for the rising numbers. Syphilis is treatable and can be cured. However, there’s been a lack of federal funding for STD prevention even with the rising costs.

According to Craig Highfill, who works with the prevention department of the Bureau of HIV, STD and Hepatitis, Missouri’s funding from the CDC was cut by $354,000. He said the restrictions imposed by the state legislature about the money for Planned Parenthood means some STD treatments are not reimbursable.

Another reason for the rise in STDs is digital media such as social media and dating apps, which is making it more difficult to contain STDs. This is very true for people who are diagnosed with syphilis. The ability to trace partners is harder than ever.

Health organizations are looking for ways to get the younger audience’s attention. One way that’s been pondered was educational ads on apps such as Grindr.

Written by Mark Riegel, MD

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