Free testing for syphilis now offered at PATF office
January 12, 2017 12:00 AM
By Jill Daly / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Taking action to find people at risk of a sexually transmitted disease that is on an alarmingly upward trend in Allegheny County, the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force on Wednesday announced free rapid syphilis testing six days a week at its East Liberty location and other testing events in the region.
In October, the county Health Department reported a 90 percent increase in primary and secondary syphilis cases from 2014 to 2015. In 2014, there were 68 cases of primary and secondary disease; in 2015 there were a total of 129 cases. An overwhelming number, 93 percent, of these infections in 2015 were among men and most were men who have sex with men.
The national growth rate of syphilis cases between 2014 and 2015 was 19 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Health Director Karen Hacker commented last fall that syphilis has had a resurgence since 2011 and voiced a concern that people were not protecting themselves and did not know the STD status of their partners. Of all the primary and secondary syphilis cases, 45 percent were also HIV-positive; 62 percent were under the age of 30.
The Health Department said the risk of syphilis is reduced by following safer sexual practices. These are reducing the number of sex partners, using latex condoms, monogamous long-term relationships and confirming that a partner has had negative test results for STDs.
Syphilis testing is new at PATF, said Jason Herring, director of programs and communications.
“We’re trying to get it rolling.”
Traditionally testing has been offered for HIV, hepatitis C, gonorrhea and chlamydia.
“It’s a finger stick, fairly painless,” he said. “We get a tiny bit of blood, wait 10 minutes. We’re looking for antibodies.” If someone has already had syphilis and has been treated, they will have antibodies, so if syphilis is suspected, they will have blood drawn.
STDs in general are rising nationwide, he said.
The rapid testing can be followed by treatment at the new PATF clinic. Syphilis is treated with antiobiotics and is curable.
“It’s very treatable,” Mr. Herring said. “It can go unnoticed, but if you don’t get it treated, it can eventually kill you.” Among the dangers are miscarriage, stillbirth, blindness and stroke.
Mr. Herring said people who are having unprotected sex, and not using a condom, should get tested for all STDs.
“All of our tests, except gonorrhea and chlamydia, are all rapid tests. You can have them done at one shot.” Public testing events are advertised on social media and the PATF website.
The PATF clinic is located at 5913 Penn Ave., East Liberty. Free screening and treatment for syphilis and other STDs also can be obtained at the county Health Department’s STD Clinic at 3441 Forbes Ave., Oakland.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
firstname.lastname@example.org and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.