Tarrant County ranks No. 2 nationally in increase of syphilis cases

Syphilis cases are on the rise in Tarrant County even as chlamydia and gonorrhea are on the decline, a new report shows.

Tarrant County ranked No. 2 among the nation’s counties in the percentage increase of syphilis cases from 2016 to 2017, according to a recent Health Testing Centers analysis of the 2017 STD Surveillance Report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I would have expected Tarrant County to be more middle of the road,” said Dr. Nikhil K. Bhayani, an infectious disease specialist with Texas Health Resources. “This is pretty spread out.”

But, he noted, “it’s a diverse county.”

Across the country, nearly 2.3 million cases of the three STDs were diagnosed in 2017, according to the new report.

“We are sliding backward,” Jonathan Mermin, director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD and TB Prevention, said in the report. “It is evident the systems that identify, treat and ultimately prevent STDs are strained to near-breaking point.”

STD statistics

The STDs in America report analyzed CDC data to see which areas of the country were being most affected by the rise in STDs.

Texas was singled out once, on the list of the top five states with the highest rates of syphilis in 2017. The country’s average was 31.4 cases for every 100,000 residents. The rate in Texas was 43.5. Louisiana led the nation, followed by Nevada, California, New York and Texas.

Tarrant County had the fifth-largest drop in gonorrhea cases, down 10.6 percent, for a rate of 141.4 cases for every 100,000 residents. It also had the third-largest decrease in chlamydia cases, down 8.2 percent, for a rate of 427.6 cases for every 100,000 residents.

Tarrant’s 9.8 syphilis cases per 100,000 residents were up 55.6 percent.

“Syphilis is a disease that lies dormant and usually you screen older people for this,” Bhayani said.

Dallas County saw the largest increases in chlamydia and gonorrhea cases across the country, with nearly 50 percent more cases of both those STDs than the year before.

Overall, chlamydia and gonorrhea were most frequently found among men and women between 15 and 25 years old. Syphilis was found most often in older age groups.

Tarrant cases

Here are Tarrant County cases, according to the Texas STD Surveillance Report:

8,387 chlamydia cases in 2017, down from 9,002 in 2016.

2,760 gonorrhea cases in 2017, down from 3,079 in 2016.

676 syphilis cases in 2017, up from 543 in 2016.

STD facts

Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis can be cured with antibiotics.

“The bottom line is to use protection and know who your sexual partner is,” Bhayani said.

He did say some patients with gonorrhea are beginning to see more resistance to antibiotics. “But there are different options.”

Two Tarrant County health clinics provide regular testing, diagnosis and treatment for STDs: The Tarrant County Public Health main campus, 1101 S. Main St. in Fort Worth, and the Tarrant County Public Health Center, 2596 E. Arkansas Lane in Arlington.

Both are open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

“With STD rates setting record highs and showing no sign of slowing down, it is up to the American public to take precautions regarding their sexual activity,” the STD Surveillance report stated. “Getting tested for STDs is vital to the health and safety of you and your partners, even if precautions are taken and protection is used.”

Free testing

April is Sexually Transmitted Disease Awareness month and free STD testing is available in Tarrant County. Several additional times and locations are pending, but these locations and days are firm, according to Tarrant County’s health department.

April 3: Tarrant County Community College’s North East Campus, 828 Harwood Road in Hurst, 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

April 6: Charles F. Griffin Sub-Courthouse, 3500 Miller Ave. in Fort Worth, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

April 9: LVT RISE, 8201 Calmont Ave. in Fort Worth, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

April 11: Tarrant County Community College’s South Campus, 5301 S. Campus Dr. in Fort Worth, 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Every Friday in April: Resource Connection, 2300 Circle Dr. in Fort Worth, 8 a.m. to noon.

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Anna M. Tinsley grew up in a journalism family and has been a reporter for the Star-Telegram since 2001. She has covered the Texas Legislature and politics for more than two decades and has won multiple awards for political reporting, most recently a third place from APME for deadline writing. She is a Baylor University graduate.