April 26, 2023
Syphilis cases rose 25 percent in 2022 despite other STDs declining slightly, new data show
Newly released 2022 data from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) show rising levels of syphilis in Minnesota. Chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV/AIDS numbers show a slight decline during 2022 compared to the previous year but continue to impact thousands of Minnesotans.
Syphilis cases rose to 1,832 during 2022, a 25% increase from 1,457 cases in 2021 and hitting the highest level in recent years. New infections continued to be centered primarily within the Twin Cities metropolitan area, though health officials noted a syphilis outbreak declared in 2021 in the Duluth area continues.
At the same time, Minnesota continues to address three ongoing outbreaks of HIV: two distinct outbreaks in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, and one in the Duluth area.
New syphilis cases in 2022 were mostly among males, particularly among men who have sex with men (MSM). However, the presence of syphilis among females and people who can become pregnant continues to be of concern, in part because of the risk of congenital syphilis.
Congenital syphilis cases increased 42% in 2022. Congenital syphilis occurs when a pregnant person with syphilis passes the infection on to their baby during pregnancy or at delivery. It can cause severe complications such as miscarriages and stillbirths. Infants born with congenital syphilis can suffer serious health problems, including deformed bones, enlarged liver and spleen, severe anemia, brain and nerve problems, and other complications.
The increase in congenital syphilis is especially troubling because syphilis can be readily detected and treated during pregnancy and can be prevented.
Health officials cautioned that the COVID-19 pandemic may have had impacts on STD data that make direct year-over-year comparisons difficult.
“We cannot know the full extent of COVID-19’s impact on STD screening and treatment accessibility based on our data over the past few years,” said Christine Jones, STD, HIV and TB section manager for MDH. “But we can say for certain that STDs continue to be a major concern in Minnesota. STD and HIV screening and appropriate treatment are critical pieces of preventing long-term health problems and future spread of these diseases.”
Additional key findings
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, STDs remained at near historic high levels, with 32,072 STD cases reported in 2022 compared to 33,706 cases in 2021 – a 5% decrease.
- Chlamydia remained the number one reported STD in the state, with 22,079 cases reported, a 2% decrease compared to 2021.
- Gonorrhea remained the second most reported STD in Minnesota, with 8,161 cases reported in 2022, a 15% decrease.
In 2022, 262 newly diagnosed HIV infections were reported to MDH. While this is a decrease of 12% from the 298 cases reported in 2021, more time is needed to assess the impact of COVID-19 on 2020 and 2021 data. The 2022 case total of 262 represents a 10% decrease from the average number of yearly cases for the previous decade, which was 291.
- Almost two thirds (65%) of new HIV cases affect communities of color.
- The number of people believed to be living with HIV/AIDS in Minnesota is 9,805.
- Almost one third (29%) of people assigned male at birth and diagnosed with HIV in 2022 were adolescents and young adults in the 13-24 age range.
- The Hennepin and Ramsey outbreaks began in December 2018. The Duluth-area outbreak began in fall 2020. People at high risk in the current outbreaks include those who use injection drugs or share needles/works, those experiencing homelessness or unstable housing, men who have sex with men (MSM) and people who exchange sex for income and other items they need.
For more details about the HIV outbreaks, visit HIV Outbreak Response and Case Counts (MDH).
Testing and treatment for STDs and HIV are key components in preventing people from acquiring and spreading the infections. It is important for contacts of people who are infected to be tested and treated if necessary. STDs and HIV infections are highly preventable. Effective prevention methods include consistent and correct condom use during sex and not sharing injection drug, tattoo and piercing equipment. Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, is a daily prescription medication that can prevent HIV infection when taken consistently and correctly.
MDH funds community-based programs that provide STD and HIV services and prevention resources throughout Minnesota. These programs offer prevention education, testing services and support for people who need care and sterile syringe access. In his budget, Gov. Tim Walz is requesting funding to support HIV prevention programs that directly address the health inequities of communities experiencing the greatest rates of HIV. To address other STDs, he has also requested funding to increase access to voluntary family planning services throughout Minnesota through the existing Family Planning Special Projects (FPSP) grant program.
Visit the Minnesota Family Planning & STI Hotline website and MDH HIV Prevention Grantees for testing sites and other resources. For assistance with partner notification, contact the MDH Partner and Care Link Services program at 651-201-5414.
More information, as well as the complete Minnesota 2022 Surveillance Reports for STDs and HIV, can be found on the STD Statistics page on the MDH website.