Sexually transmitted infections are on the rise across the nation.
To combat the increase in STIs locally, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the Chicago Department of Public of Health are launching a multiyear initiative, starting with a task force aimed at a reducing new syphilis cases.
Last year, there were 877 primary and secondary syphilis cases in Chicago – the highest number since the mid-1990s and an 11% increase over 2017, according to city officials, who say gay and bisexual men were disproportionately affected.
Women were also impacted. Between 2017 and 2018, there was a 38% increase in syphilis cases among women, which could lead to more infants acquiring congenital syphilis. Without proper treatment, syphilis can lead to neurological damage, blindness, deafness, stroke and permanent damage to vital organs, according to officials.
The city’s syphilis task force will include 15 medical and community experts, and will be co-led by CDPH and community organizations. According to the city, task force members will work together to develop scientifically sound, community-oriented strategies that are focused on populations and geographic areas disproportionately impacted by syphilis.
They’ll also set goals, targets and make recommendations that strengthen existing policies and practices, as well as initiating new approaches to reduce disease transmission through increased testing, treatment and prevention, the city says.
Future task forces will focus on reducing chlamydia and gonorrhea infections, primarily among black youth and young adults, according to the city. In 2018, Chicago had the highest number of chlamydia cases on record (30,608) and the highest number gonorrhea cases in a decade (12,679), according to officials.
“The City of Chicago is committed to ensuring all residents have the opportunity to be healthy,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “There is an urgent need to scale up prevention and treatment efforts on STIs. Together with community partners, we intend to meet this challenge.”