A descriptive study of syphilis infection in Houston, Texas, 1999–2008

Cepeda B Grimes, The University of Texas School of Public Health


The rate of syphilis nationally has been on the rise since 2001. Syphilis, if left untreated can facilitate the transmission of HIV infection. An epidemiologic study describing the trends of syphilis is important to the public health community to lay the foundation for the development and implementation of programs to prevent and eliminate syphilis in the United States. The objective of this study was to describe the trends of syphilis among the population in Houston/Harris County, Texas. We reviewed surveillance data that included 11,605 unique cases from the Houston Department of Human and Health Service from 1999 through 2008. The rates were calculated per 100,000 population. We show the prevalence of syphilis at testing (excluding congenital) increased 40% in Houston/Harris County, Texas from 2001 through 2008, and the ratio of syphilis comparing men to women was 2:1. The 18–29 years age group had the highest percentage of cases of syphilis among all age groups in Houston/Harris County. Primary and Secondary (P&S) syphilis, the most infectious stage, had an 85% increase in rate among males from 1999 through 2008. Between 1999 and 2000, 71% of cases were identified through public facilities compared to private facilities. However, after 2001 rates shifted over more to the private facilities. By 2008, private facilities identified 54.7% of cases, compared to 45.3% identified through public facilities. This may be due to an increase among individuals who have a higher socio-economic status with access to health care insurance. In conclusion, syphilis rates from 1999 through 2008 increased among all race ethnicities, age groups, and genders in Houston/Harris County. Blacks still are disproportionally affected by syphilis infections, and for the first time, White males displayed a significant increase in cases among males. It is vital to Houston public health professionals to have improved surveillance techniques to track syphilis trends and engage high risk groups to better understand their risks in hope of treating and preventing syphilis.

Subject Area

Public health|Epidemiology

Recommended Citation

Grimes, Cepeda B, "A descriptive study of syphilis infection in Houston, Texas, 1999–2008" (2011). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI1497576.