What you need to know about the spike in gay syphilis cases

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LAS VEGAS (AP) โ€” Nevada is experiencing the highest rate of syphilis in the West following an outbreak in Las Vegas.

Health officials say it’s part of a national spike in cases tied to increased testing, a rise in anonymous sex tied to social media, and a less consistent use of condoms.

Social media’s link to syphilis in the gay community has prompted health officials to take their educational outreach directly to the websites and apps, in some cases creating profiles or buying advertisements.

Here’s a closer look at what’s going on:

WHAT IS SYPHILIS? HOW DOES IT STILL EXIST?

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that’s been around at least since the Roman times, said ?Dr. Tony Fredrick, the Southern Nevada Health District’s medical epidemiologist. It’s never really gone away โ€” it just comes in waves. It’s detected by blood testing, which means it’s not a part of the “bundle” of STDs found through urine screening.

Caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, syphilis spreads through skin-to-skin sexual contact when there’s a sore or lesion, typically in the genital or anal areas or mouth. Symptoms aren’t always apparent and can progress for years, even decades, without treatment. In early stages, it’s highly treatable with penicillin.

WHAT’S GOING ON IN NEVADA?

Clark County health officials declared an outbreak in Las Vegas last week after noting a 128 percent increase in reported syphilis cases since 2012 โ€” with 615 of the 694 cases involving men diagnosed in 2015. This makes Nevada’s rate of syphilis the highest in the West.

There’s been an uptick in other parts of Nevada, too, but that could be tied to a population increase, the state health department said. Nevadan youth, meanwhile, are having sex at younger ages and are using condoms inconsistently or improperly.

WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF THE COUNTRY?

Syphilis outbreaks have appeared in pockets of the U.S. in recent years, including in Kansas, Pennsylvania and Hawaii. The latest available data, from 2014, showed a 15 percent increase in cases overall, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

There’s been an increase in other STDs. The most common, chlamydia, has risen to record levels.

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