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Sexually Transmitted Disease Rates Surge By 20-Plus Percent In Dallas County

RPR, VDRL laboratory rapid test for syphilis.

Rates of sexually transmitted diseases – gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia in particular – are soaring in Dallas County. Cases of those three illnesses surged by more than 20 percent last year.

The increase mirrors the nation as a whole.

A 2018 release from the Centers for Disease Control reported a fourth consecutive year of increases with nearly 2.3 million cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis diagnosed in 2017. This number surpasses the previous record set in 2016 by more than 200,000.

Ganesh Shivaramaiyer, the outgoing interim director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, said rates were higher among African Americans and Latinos.

“Those areas will not have the resources, will not have the necessary education, the prevention," “Those areas are left to themselves,” Shivaramaiyer said. "It doesn’t happen in those areas.”

The county health service has several community outreach programs to combat increasing STD rates, but Shivaramaiyer said more can be done: more clinics, more active surveillance, more mobilization of testing and screening.

“We do recognize folks may not be able to come into the health department because of lack of access and mobility challenges,” he said, “but we can go to the community, so we have a lot of those efforts ongoing.”

Interview Highlights

Dallas County Statistics: "We noticed that in Dallas County, in the case of chlamydia, we had 19,000 cases, which was a 25 percent increase from the previous year. In the case of gonorrhea, there was about 7,500 cases, up 23-percent from the previous year. And, of course, we have syphilis, which was close to 400 new cases and the increase of 21.2 percent from the previous years."

Rates are higher among African Americans and Latinos: "It’s definitely high in those two populations. Certain communities lack medical care in the sense of education outreach. Those areas are left to themselves. Those areas will not have the resources, will not have the necessary education, the prevention. It doesn’t happen in those areas."

Other reasons: “Lack of access and mobility for those individuals to get the right amount of testing and treatment. And the practices - the drug use, for example – the behavioral aspect of it. Now, those things are across the board. But, again, being that there’s no active education and there’s a lack of that as pronounced as the other communities, it sort of perpetuates. Practicing safe sex – those messages are not as prevalent in those areas."

Are the increases more among teenagers or adults? In the case of chlamydia, 60 percent of those 15 to 24 are affected. All the other ages put together got 40 percent. So you know it’s predominantly in those age groups. So we know that these diseases are disproportionately affecting those age groups.

What can be done to target the younger generation? "More screenings. There are talks that as these teens and younger adults get tested annually through their primary care physicians, STD testing should be made a normal practice."

Difficulty today of treating syphilis, chlamydia or gonorrhea: "These are all bacterial infections. There are antibiotics to treat these diseases. If you put these folks who have these diseases on a treatment regimen, between a few weeks to a year, they are free of the disease. But I will add, one of the things we’re seeing, the antibiotics we’re seeing are becoming resistant to gonorrhea. By and large, treatments are there. Folks that get tested can be treated without any issues."


Dallas County: STD Clinics

Healthy North Texas: Syphilis Incidence Rate

Sexually transmitted diseases on the rise in U.S., according to CDC data

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.