State health officials investigating possible syphilis outbreak

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The state Department of Health is investigating a possible syphilis outbreak on the Big Island. Five cases were already reported this year among men who have sex with men in West Hawaii.

“It’s something to be concerned about,” said Luke Hasty, program coordinator for the STD/AID Prevention Branch of the DOH..

Officials are concerned because it’s a big spike in cases.

“In the past five years prior to 2013, we had zero, one, or two cases for the entire year. So to have five cases in a five-month period is an unusual number of cases,” Hasty said.

The state says the men who got the disease range in age from 25 to 63. Some of them know each other.

“From talking to the people who have infections identified, it seems pretty clear that there are other people who have been exposed to infection who have not been tested,” Hasty said.

The DOH sent a medical alert to doctors and nurses across the state so they can be on the lookout if they see certain symptoms.

Symptoms include a small ulcer on the genitals, skin rash, fever, sore throat, muscles aches and fatigue.

Health officials say syphilis can go unrecognized and early symptoms may go away with or without treatment. There can be a very long period of infection where syphilis is moving through the body and causing internal damage. If untreated, it could cause death.

“There’s a good chance that there are people who have the infection and are unaware of it and they travel within the state without knowing what kind of infections they have,” Hasty said.

Anyone can contract the disease. A simple blood test can diagnose it and syphilis can be treated with penicillin.

For more information, call the DOH at (808) 733-9281 on Oahu, (808) 821-2741 on Kauai, (808) 984-2129 on Maui, or (808) 974-4247 on the Big Island.

Additional information for the public and healthcare providers is available on the DOH website.

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