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Syphilis Makes Unwanted Return In Cook County: Report

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Cook County tops the list for the number of reported syphilis cases in the U.S. among the pool of documented counties, according to a Centers for Disease Control report out Thursday.

The history pages say gangster Al Capone had mental and physical deterioration related to syphilis. Even though that was a long time ago, the sexually transmitted disease is still with us, CBS’s Kristyn Hartman reports.

“We’ve seen a decrease over the last decades but we are seeing an uptick and that’s the concern we have right now,” says Dr. Bechara Choucair of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

There’s an uptick in the city and there’s one in the county.

Dr. Susan Gerber of the Cook County Public Health Department says suburban Cook has seen a 72 percent spike in primary and secondary cases — from 57 to 98 cases. While that number might not seem concerning, it doesn’t tell the whole story, she says.

“What we’ve ID’d out there we think is just the tip of the iceberg, so we know there are people in the community infected,” Gerber says.

Syphilis begins with a sore in the genital area. In the later stage there could be a rash on the hands and the feet. Someone with advanced syphilis could face damage to the organs, including the brain and the heart. It can be deadly.

Health officials hope increased education efforts can turn the tide.

A big part of that message is this: a simple blood test will tell you if you have syphilis.

The disease is easy to treat. Doctors say penicillin can cure it, as long as it is treated before it gets out of hand.

For more information about how to get tested, click here.

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