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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Syphilis on the rise in Pima County

Angeline Carbajal

A photo of the Campus Health Services building where students can receive treatment for various sexually transmitted diseases. Pima County Health Department has reported a dramatic increase in syphillis over the last three years.

The Pima County Health Department has found that within the past three years, syphilis has seen an unprecedented increase in cases. 

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that is contracted through direct contact with a syphilitic sore, commonly known as a chancre. Though the disease is easily treatable with an injection of penicillin, it can cause lasting damage and even death if progression leads to the latent, most dangerous stage. With the UA residing in the heart of Pima County, this outbreak hits close to home. 

Lee Ann Hamilton, assistant director of Health Promotion and Preventive Services and specialist in STD/HIV prevention at the UA Campus Health Service, explained that in this outbreak, men have been contracting the infection more than women. Ninety percent of the male cases are seen in men who have sex with men, or MSM.

However, while the majority of the cases seem to derive from a certain group, Hamilton stressed that anyone is susceptible and should be aware that this disease is not exclusive to any one demographic. There are other factors to consider, she said, and cases are not indicative of who will contract the infection. 

“There aren’t many cases, but both women and men who sleep with women are still at risk,” Hamilton warned. “Everyone needs to be aware that it makes you more susceptible to HIV infection because of the sores.”

The health department had a conference at the UA earlier this school year to discuss the spreading infection. In its reports, the department found that of the MSM cases, 84 percent were Hispanic or white individuals. From the overall MSM cases, 63 percent had used a mobile dating app to find sexual partners. 

With the growing popularity of dating apps such as Tinder and Grindr among young people, the department has made an effort to prevent the proliferation of the disease.

The department had been publishing public service announcements urging users to get tested. However, these PSAs were forced to end due to funding limitations. While the number of positive cases has slightly dropped in recent months, the department takes into account a decline in awareness campaigns. What exactly is causing the outbreak is hard to say, but speculation of a positive correlation between the amount of people getting tested due to awareness and the growth rate of disease remains a possibility. 

Moira Alexander, a member of the Pima Outreach and Education Team for the health department, explained this correlation between the rate of positive syphilis cases and awareness campaigns. 

“When we first started the awareness campaign, we noticed that rates increased,” Alexander said. “There is definitely a positive correlation in cases and people getting tested when awareness is up. The more people know about it, the more people get tested, and the more people get tested, the more we see positive cases.”

The department was unable to give an exact time period for when the outbreak will cease, but correspondents urged community members to take preventative steps against not only syphilis, but all STIs. 

Public health senior and intern at the health department Greg Daniels explained how this lack of communication affects society and offered advice to UA students about being safe.

“Don’t be embarrassed to ask for condoms,” Daniels said. “They are such an easy barrier to protect yourself. Condoms can be sexy; its not a taboo topic. I just want people to know that getting tested on a regular basis is imperative. Even if you aren’t really sexually active, you should still get tested. People should know their status, not just on syphilis and HIV, but everything. Stay informed; don’t let stigma prevent you from getting tested.”


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