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Syphilis is spiking in Leon County

By Breyanna Holmes | Staff Reporter
On March 13, 2019

A photo of the bus wrap urging pregnant women to get tested for Syphilis.
Photo Courtesy of Christopher Titte.

Syphilis rates have increased dramatically in Leon County. They were up in all gender, age, race and sexual orientation categories between 2017 and 2018.

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease that can have serious complications when left untreated, but it can be cured with the right treatment.

The Florida Department of Health in Leon County is spearheading a coalition of community partners to fight the uptick in syphilis rates. Leon County community partners are invited to an April 2 meeting between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. at West Orange Avenue facility.

Dale Harrison has been with health department for 27 years. He is the STD area manager; his department covers 14 counties between Bay and Taylor counties.

“When you look at STDs, especially syphilis, we can understand that our rates are up all across the United States, even Florida. But when you look at Leon County, we have an acute increase. Therefore, we probably have more syphilis or great increase than any other county in Florida. So that’s what we’re dealing with now,” said Harrison.

According to Leon County Health Department, January through October 2018, the county’s syphilis rate went up to 144 percent, from 59 cases to 144. The male cases increased from 66 to 138, or 109 percent; which is 109%. female cases jumped from 10 to 40 for a 300 percent increase. Seventy percent of the cases were people from ages 25 and older and 28 percent of those cases were people from 25 to 29.

“These numbers are so low because those are the only people out there that saw something wrong and went to do something about it. Who knows how many people are out there seeing something wrong and they know that they are wrong but they’re not coming in for a test,” said Chris Tittel, the public information officer and marketing director for the Florida Department of Health-Leon County.

“There could be a lot more out there,” he added. “People who aren’t recognizing it for what it is or they are afraid to come in and take a test.”

African Americans have the highest percentage compared to other demographics.    

By mapping ZIP codes officials can target the areas where the syphilis comes from and help the health department with a chance to implement a solution.

“We’ve done some great things that’s working directly with the providers. We have been sending out provider letters not only that but we have had a chance to go and meet with providers. We’ve had a chance to go and do a training with all of the providers at the hospital and we actually had a chance to meet with the OGBYN’s,” said Harrison.

“Know your status, know your partner,” Harrison said. “A lot of people is having sex off the internet where they meet a lot of partners they don’t know. Get tested, know your partner and practice safe sex, this is some of the things we see in Leon County and we just want to bring awareness.”

The Florida Department of Health sends out information quarterly to inform. The health department offers free condoms and material about syphilis.

There was a condom delivery to FAMU Student Health Department on Tuesday.

“One of our greatest accomplishments we have done been meeting with the school boards and we have been going to the schools to pull data and map where the cases are coming from. Once we see where the cases are coming from then we try to get in those local school. Middle and high schools but this year, we’re going to do all of the schools,” said Harrison.  

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