Politics & Government

Syphilis cases in Mecklenburg have jumped 166 percent in three years

The rate of syphilis is increasing rapidly throughout Mecklenburg County, jumping 166 percent since 2014.

County health officials said Wednesday the rate of syphilis infections was 8.4 cases per 100,000 people in 2012. Last year it was 28.1 cases per 100,000 people.

The grim news was presented to Mecklenburg commissioners by Gibbie Harris, who was named the county’s permanent health director Wednesday after being an interim for four months. Harris stepped into the top job after previous director Marcus Plescia resigned under pressure.

Plescia came under public scrutiny in February when the Observer first reported that the agency failed to notify 185 women about their risk for cervical cancer following abnormal Pap smears.

Harris said Wednesday that syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease, is impacting all aspects of society.

“We are seeing it in every region, every age group, in every race and ethnicity,” she said.

Syphilis infections have been increasing nationwide.

Mecklenburg’s infection rate is higher than the state’s. In 2012, the state’s infection rate was 3.4 cases per 100,000 people. That increased to 11.5 cases in 2015 before declining to 10.7 in 2016.

Mecklenburg did not see a decrease from 2015 to 2016. Instead, the infection rate increased from 25.3 to 28.1 cases per 100,000 people.

Harris’s presentation also noted that the county’s “HIV burden” is increasing.

There were 4,992 people living in Mecklenburg with HIV in 2012. Last year there were 6,630 people living with HIV.

Harris said the two diseases are linked. In addition to both being transmitted sexually, someone with HIV is at greater risk of getting syphilis.

“People with compromised immune system are showing changes in how syphilis manifests itself,” she said. “We might not be able to recognize as quickly. It creates a much bigger problem for people with HIV. These rates are troubling across the board.”

Steve Harrison: 704-358-5160, @Sharrison_Obs