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Public Health

Syphilis Skyrockets In Nevada; Other STDs Also On The Rise



The number of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) has skyrocketed in Washoe County. Reno Public Radio’s Anh Gray has more.


Since 2009, STD cases in the county have been climbing. The region experienced a jump in cases of chlamydia and gonorrhea last year, including a staggering 75% increase in primary and secondary syphilis, which are the most infectious stages of the disease.




Kevin Dick is with the Washoe County Health District. The uptick, he says, can be attributed to the use of hook up apps.


“We have people that come in and we are trying to figure out who their partners were so that we can stem the spread of that disease,” Dick explains, “and we have situations where they don’t know what the person’s name was because they just met them through an app.”


Syphilis is the most serious bacterial STD. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, without treatment, the infection can affect the brain, heart and other organs, and can be fatal.


Nevada ranks third in the nation for congenital syphilis, those are the babies who are born to infected mothers. Jennifer Howell is also with the health agency and says prenatal testing in the first and third trimesters can help with diagnosis.


“It’s absolutely critical that we get women treated at the appropriate times," Howell says, "so we don’t’ have adverse health outcomes for those babies.”


Due to the Nevada’s high rate of infections, lawmakers passed a bill back in 2009 that requires pregnant women get tested.


Curbing the spread of STDs, Howell says, requires attacking the problem from many angles. This would include having doctors ask their patients about their sexual histories and getting them properly tested and/or treated. She says there also needs to be adequate education before people become sexually active.


“Having comprehensive sexual health education in our schools that’s medically accurate and inclusive is absolutely necessary,” Howell explains. “It has to be a multidisciplinary approach that we need, and then people using condoms as well.”


The spread of other STDs like genital herpes and HPV, Howell says, continue to remain high in the region.

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