MDH: Sharp rise in syphilis cases draws concern

(ABC 6 News) – Minnesota health officials said syphilis cases rose sharply in Minnesota in 2021, bringing them to concerning levels.

The state’s increase mirrors the national trend, which is affecting all communities, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

MDH is urging Minnesotans to take extra caution, get tested regularly and treated, if necessary, to help stem the tide.

“What we do know is that the rates of syphilis are troubling, especially the rise in congenital syphilis (CS), or when a pregnant person passes syphilis to an infant,” Jones said. In 2021, cases of CS in Minnesota increased by 115%, up 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. “We are encouraging people to get tested regularly for STDs, especially if they are pregnant.”

Key findings

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, STDs remained at near historic high levels, with 33,706 STD cases reported in 2021 compared to 33,245 cases in 2020 – a 1% increase.


  • Syphilis cases reflected the greatest increase from 2020, with a 33% increase, to 1,457 cases reported in 2021. Fifteen cases of congenital syphilis in infants were reported in 2021. This is a 115% increase from 2020 when seven congenital syphilis cases were reported.
  • Chlamydia remained the number one reported STD in the state, with 22,578 cases reported, a 3% increase compared to 2020. Most of the cases (59%) occurred in teens and young adults ages 15 to 24. One in three cases occurred in Greater Minnesota, with at least two cases reported in every county in Minnesota.
  • Gonorrhea remained the second most reported STD in Minnesota, with 9,671 cases reported in 2021, a 5% decrease. This follows a substantial increase in 2020.


Overall, the number of newly diagnosed HIV infections reported to MDH increased 8%, with 298 cases reported in 2021 compared to 275 in 2019 (2019 data are used more reliably here due to COVID-19 disruptions in HIV testing services and access to clinical care impacting HIV diagnoses in 2020).

  • Almost two-thirds (65%) of new HIV cases affect communities of color.
  • The number of reported people living with HIV/AIDS in Minnesota is 9,697.

Two ongoing outbreaks of HIV have influenced the number of newly diagnosed cases in 2021: the Hennepin and Ramsey County outbreak declared in February 2020 and the Duluth area outbreak declared in March 2021. Minnesota’s outbreak-associated cases have risk factors consistent with the national outbreaks. Those include:

  • People who use injection drugs or share needles and works.
  • People experiencing homelessness or unstable housing.
  • People who exchange sex for income and other needed items.
  • Men who have sex with men (MSM).