In response to a sharp increase in the number of new syphilis cases in Allegheny County, the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force is offering free testing for the disease.
According to the Allegheny County Department of Health, the number of new primary and secondary syphilis cases in the county jumped by 90 percent from 2014 to 2015. Health Department Medical Director of the Sexually Transmitted Disease Program Harold Wiesenfeld said the data for 2016 is incomplete but he does not expect to see much change from the year prior.
It’s unclear if the increase is due to the sexually transmitted disease spreading faster or if it's due to better detection. Pittsburgh Aids Task Force Director of Programs Jason Herring said it's possible to contract syphilis and not know it.
“You could have it and not be symptomatic for something like 30 years,” Herring said. “The issue being that, the longer you go without it (being) treated, the worse off you are. I mean, it could actually kill you.”
The Task Force will offer free testing on a walk-in basis at its East Liberty clinic at 5913 Penn Avenue, which is open Sunday from noon to 3:30 p.m., Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Wednesday 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Results from the finger stick test are available after about 10 minutes. The clinic also offers treatment for syphilis, but charges for the service.
Portions of the service can also be kept anonymous.
“I understand that some people want to come in and get tested but don’t want people to know they are getting tested," Herring said. "And if they’re negative, that’s fine. But if you do have this disease it can eventually kill you. So you need to get treatment and you can’t get treatment anonymously.”
According to the Allegheny County Health Department, the number of new cases in the county had been rising slowly since 2009 but dipped in 2013 before rebounding to 68 cases (or 5.5 cases per 100,000 population) in 2014 and jumping to 129 in 2015.
Herring said it appears that the increase is mostly among men and that anyone having unprotected sex should consider getting tested.
(Photo via Alden Chadwick/Flickr)