Online dating sites to blame for rise in syphilis cases in Wake County?

WAKE COUNTY (WTVD) -- Officials in Wake County say they are concerned about the rise in reported syphilis cases, which may have a possible link to online dating sites or apps.

From 2001 to 2014, the number of Wake County residents infected has more than doubled.

"We are concerned about the alarming rise in syphilis cases," said Dr. Sue Lynn Ledford, public health division director at Wake County. "The outbreak is affecting people of all ages and backgrounds, and sexually risky online hookups may be contributing to the spread of new cases."

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted disease caused by specific bacteria. Symptoms of the disease are painless sores or skin rashes that don't itch. Anyone who has any kind of sex without protection can get syphilis.

The most recent data shows 233 people across the county were diagnosed with early syphilis last year.

"When patients visit our clinics complaining of symptoms consistent with syphilis, we ask them a series of questions to help inform our diagnosis," said Dr. Ledford. "Questions asked include a patient's number of sexual partners, as well as information on where they met those partners. A striking number of patients who are diagnosed with syphilis said they met their partners online."

She said she is particularly concerned with the rise of syphilis cases involving sexual encounters between teenaged males and adult men, some of whom are also HIV positive.

In Wake County, 52.1 percent of those with syphilis also have HIV, according to health officials. Statistically, those individuals who have a STD, such as syphilis, are at a much higher risk of also testing positive for HIV in the future.

To address the public health crisis, Wake County's HIV/STD Community Program is putting a greater emphasis on:

  • Encouraging and providing syphilis testing, outreach, education and condoms;

  • Providing information through social media sites that are used for anonymous sex, as well as through Facebook;

  • Encouraging parents to talk with their children about the risk of sexually transmitted diseases;

  • Providing treatment for people with syphilis and their known partners; and

  • Coordinating and sharing information with healthcare and community partners and other health departments across the state.

  • Wake County will host a free syphilis training for medical providers on March 22. Details here (.pdf)

    If you live in Wake County and want to get information on testing and treatment for syphilis or HIV, call (919) 250-3950 or visit the Wake County Human Services website.
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