- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 14, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - Figures for the first four months of this year show that rates of some sexually transmitted diseases are on the rise in South Dakota.

State Epidemiologist Lon Kightlinger said syphilis rates haven’t been this high since the 1970s. HIV rates are reaching levels not seen since the 1980s.

HIV rates are up 129 percent through April this year compared to the 5-year median.

South Dakota typically has high rates of chlamydia and the rate is 18 percent higher so far this year than the 5-year median. About 168 of every 100,000 South Dakotans have chlamydia.

Syphilis rates are up more than one thousand percent so far this year compared to the 5-year median. There are 43 cases of syphilis in the state so far this year. There were 49 cases for all of 2013.

Syphilis affects 5.3 out of every 100,000 nationally and 5.2 out of every 100,000 in South Dakota.

Kightlinger said most of the past syphilis infections came from outside South Dakota.

“Now it’s homegrown syphilis in the state,” he said.

Physicians and other health care providers are hoping to quash the trend. Physicians, medical students and residents gathered in Sioux Falls Wednesday for a presentation on “Syphilis 2014: The Great Imitator Returns.”

Dr. Donna Sweet is a professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita and spoke at the Sioux Falls event. She said that syphilis rates across the nation have doubled since 2000.

She said the infection is called the “great imitator” because its symptoms can be confused with other STDs or other problems affecting the heart, eyes and neurological system.

She said the increase in syphilis cases is related to the increase in HIV cases in the state, because people with HIV are more susceptible to syphilis.

“You’re going to see more of all the sexually transmitted diseases,” Sweet said. “They’re all co-travelers.”

Sweet attributes the rise in STD rates to travel, drug use and misperceptions that oral sex is harmless or STDs are only found in big cities.

Allie Luoma, a nurse and nurse coordinator for a family planning clinic on the South Dakota State University campus, has seen an increase in STDs among college students and patients from the community.

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