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Minnesota syphilis cases rise sharply in 2021

“What we do know is that the rates of syphilis are troubling, especially the rise in congenital syphilis, or when a pregnant person passes syphilis to an infant,” Jones said.

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ST. PAUL — Cases of syphilis rose sharply in Minnesota in 2021, mirroring a disturbing national trend of quickly rising case numbers, according to an annual report issued by the Minnesota Department of Health.

The situation is prompting a renewed call by health officials for regular testing and prompt treatment to blunt the rise in case numbers, particularly in outbreak areas such as Duluth and counties including Cass and Beltrami, which have seen sustained increases in syphilis cases.

Statewide 2020 data showed a decline in some sexually transmitted disease rates in 2020, but 2021 numbers reveal an overall uptick in STD cases year over year.

"It may take time to assess and understand how COVID-19-related disruptions to health care access or health care seeking behaviors may have impacted and changed the screening rates of STDs and HIV, compared to the pre-COVID-19 era,” said Christine Jones, STD, HIV and TB section manager for the Minnesota Department of Health.

“What we do know is that the rates of syphilis are troubling, especially the rise in congenital syphilis, or when a pregnant person passes syphilis to an infant,” Jones said.


In 2021, cases of congenital syphilis in Minnesota increased by 115% to 15 cases.

“CS can cause low birth weight, harm or death to an infant if not treated. It is preventable when it’s caught early,” Jones said, adding that health professionals are encouraging people to get tested regularly for STDs, especially if they are pregnant.

Overall STD numbers remained at near historic high levels in 2021, with 33,706 STD cases reported in Minnesota. That compares to 33,245 cases in 2020 — a 1% increase.

Chlamydia remained the No. 1 reported STD in the state, with 22,578 cases reported, a 3% increase over 2020.

Most of the cases occurred in teens and young adults ages 15 to 24.

Gonorrhea remained the second most reported STD in Minnesota, with 9,671 cases reported in 2021, a 5% decrease from the year before.

When it came to chlamydia and gonorrhea, several area counties were a mixed bag as far as changes in case numbers between 2020 and 2021:

  • Becker County recorded 106 chlamydia cases and 35 gonorrhea cases in 2021, down from the 115 chlamydia cases and 37 gonorrhea cases reported in 2020.
  • Clay County saw 306 chlamydia cases and 170 gonorrhea cases in 2021, which reflected increases from the 270 chlamydia cases and 115 gonorrhea cases seen in 2020.
  • Mahnomen County saw 21 chlamydia cases and 10 gonorrhea cases in 2021, compared to 22 chlamydia cases and 10 gonorrhea cases in 2020.
  • Norman County listed 14 chlamydia cases and 3 gonorrhea cases in 2021, a drop from the 16 chlamydia cases and 6 gonorrhea cases in 2020.
  • Otter Tail County saw 125 chlamydia cases and 36 gonorrhea cases in 2021, a hefty increase from the 98 chlamydia cases and 26 gonorrhea cases in 2020.
  • Wilkin County saw 13 chlamydia cases and 3 gonorrhea cases in 2021, similar to the 12 chlamydia cases and 5 gonorrhea cases in 2020.

In Minnesota, the number of newly diagnosed HIV infections reported to the department of health increased 8% in 2021, with 298 cases reported last year compared to 275 in 2019.
About 65% of new HIV cases affected communities of color.


The number of people reported to be living with HIV/AIDS in Minnesota is 9,697.

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

You may reach me by phone at 701-241-5555, or by email at dolson@forumcomm.com
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