The Riverside County public health staff is warning of a Syphilis outbreak in the Coachella Valley, with the county’s health officer concerned over the spread of the diseases reaching a critical point.
“We do have a syphilis outbreak happening right now,” Marcella Herrera-Carpenter said, she is the program coordinator for the Riverside University Health System with the county.
These are busy times for Dr. Christopher Foltz at the Dock in Palm Springs, he specializes and treats infectious diseases with the Desert Aids Project.
Foltz said, “Primary Syphilis usually people get a sore, could be anywhere on the body, usually in the genital region sometimes in the mouth.”
But he said the sores from the first and second phases of the disease can disappear within one or two weeks, “And the infection can go dormant in the body and kind of lay quiet for a while and that’s when it gets more difficult to diagnose.”
But Herrera-Carpenter said the disease can still be transmitted to others, “And how do we stop that, well we stop that by first of all knowing who are partners are, using protection, limiting those partners and making sure that everybody is getting an S-T-D check-up.”
She said the county is still sourcing the reason behind the outbreak, but they do know that men who practice sex with men make-up most of the cases. The county’s number of Syphilis cases in Palm Springs and North Palm Springs are ten times more than the rest of the county.
Herrera-Carpenter said, “We don’t have any answers, we have dealing with this for a number of years and essentially we need to start thinking outside the box.”
But Dr. Foltz has seen a recent trend that may be out of the box.
Foltz said, “The reason why I think a lot of the surge with the Syphilis outbreak is because of PrEP people are often using PrEP as a way to not use condoms so that is increasing the incidents of all STDs.”
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a drug that reduces the transmission of HIV, but it does not take the role of a condom.
Foltz said, “If you have been a little bit more risky definitely ask, there’s nothing wrong with asking to get tested for syphilis.”
And to address the Syphilis outbreak, the Riverside County Syphilis Community Collaborative will host a public meeting on May 15, and outsource local input to find a solution. Learn more about the meeting here.