Public health officials in Michigan are investigating five rare cases of eye syphilis in women who had sex with the same man.
In a rare disease cluster last year, Michigan public health officials found ocular syphilis cases in five White women aged 40–60, a new report states.
Given its rarity, researchers believe the strain of the syphilis bacterium (T. pallidum) carried by the man might have heightened the risk of eye complications in his partners, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC says the women had early-stage syphilis, were all hospitalized, and received intravenous penicillin treatment. Their male partner, who also received the treatment, had early stages of syphilis, but he didn't develop ocular syphilis.
The women, who connected with the same man online, all had sex with him in early 2022, and shortly after were hospitalized for experiencing symptoms such as blurred vision, hearing loss, a full body rash, peeling skin on their hands, and genital sores.
When officials located the man in May of 2022, he showed no syphilis symptoms but reported having had multiple female partners in the prior 12 months.
Researchers suggest the strain might have stopped spreading after they all got treatment, but they cannot be 100% certain without "cluster-specific or wider geographic surveillance."
The news comes as syphilis cases in the United States are rising, with a 74% increase from 2017 to 2021. Congenital syphilis, passed from mother to baby, rose over 203%,according to CDC data.
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