Syphilis outbreak in Houston-area, women seeing an alarming spike of cases

Houston and Harris County are in the midst of a syphilis outbreak. The health department reports a 128% increase in cases among women. 

"It's really something that we all should be getting screened for, because you can't look at anybody and tell, you don't know what every partner has been exposed to, or what you may have been exposed to," said Dr. Foye Ikyaator, Medical Director at Life Savers Emergency Room in Houston. 

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According to the Houston Health Department, new infections increased from 1,845 in 2019, to 2,905 cases in 2022, that's a 57% increase

Ikyaator says what people think of as an uncommon STI, is becoming more prevalent in our communities. 

"We've gotten to the point where we think it's eradicated. I talk to people all the time who say, "is that still going on?" 'Yeah, it is," Ikyaator said. 

She also says it's mostly impacting women of childbearing age, and when women of childbearing age are impacted at this rate, so are children. The health department reports a spike in congenital syphilis, the number of babies being born with the infection went from just 16 cases in 2016, to 151 cases in 2021.

"It means that these pregnant women with syphilis are having babies that are born with neurological deficits," said Ikyaator. 


Doctors recommend that every pregnant woman gets screened in the beginning and toward the middle of her pregnancy.

Symptoms of syphilis include a circular rash that can appear on numerous parts of the body. If not caught in a timely manner it can lead to fever, hair loss, headaches, and ultimately it can damage internal organs. 

Syphilis is a treatable STI and only requires one shot. But if it goes untreated, it can be deadly. 

"It can cause severe neurological problems for adults and babies," said Dr.  Ikyaator. 

The health department is launching an outreach response that will increase screening opportunities. They are also waiving all STI & STD screening fee's at their health centers, which means easy and free testing. You can find those centers here.