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CSI: California Syphilis Investigators

Syphilis rates grew more than 18 percent from 2015 to 2016, and 2016 saw the highest number of cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis ever.

“In the last 20 years, we have seen an increase, especially in the LBGT community,” said Johnny Cross, a syphilis expert from the Los Angeles LGBT Center. “In 2000, there were under one hundred cases, and since then it’s been rising steadily. As to why? We don’t really have an answer for why.”

Programs promoting STD awareness, prevention and education have made steps in the right direction for the last few decades, but sex education can still be a very controversial topic in public schools.

“We need more education to youth,” Cross said. “We do a lot of educating at the Center, and the main focus is keeping people healthy, and a big part of that is prevention and education. I strongly advocate for education for the youth.”

Syphilis is dangerous because it can transform into more serious conditions like neurosyphilis, which can lead to blindness, severe memory loss and in some cases, death. Neurosyphilis usually takes ten years to develop, and affects around 30 percent of people with syphilis who don’t get treated in time. “There is latency for a while, and [syphilis] usually doesn’t come back,” Cross said, “but if it becomes neurosyphilis, it gets into your spine, your brain and starts doing major damage. It causes dementia, blindness and even death. Which is why it’s so important to do what we do.”

The Los Angeles LGBT Center and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation provide health care options and resources, and they also alert potential contractors of the disease through social media or phone calls.

“We can find people through Facebook,” Cross said,  “and try to match up networks, and friends, and find partners as well.”  The more efficient these centers are at flagging down potential contractors, the quicker they can stop STDs from spreading through networks of sexual partners, but the initial contact can be difficult.

“You might have people who feel it’s a sales call or a prank call,” said Disease Intervention Specialist Keyari Badon, from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “But I really try to be assertive, because if I’m calling, I want to be friendly and provide good customer service to you, but at the same time I am calling about a serious issue.”

Because of the stigma around sexually transmitted diseases and infections, sometimes people do not want to get tested. But with the emergence of this potentially deadly disease, the best thing to do is get tested if any symptoms appear.

“No one wants an STD,” Cross said, “but it comes with the territory, and really the best thing is to be tested and move on from it. The stigma attached does a lot of harm, and if we can find a way to remove that we can get more people tested.”

Moderator: Nathan Hoffman

Producers: Breanna Burnette and Star Harvey

Anchor: Shuandy Herrera

Social Media Editors: Tephanie Martinez and Jennifer Montiel

Reporters: Breanna Burnette, Max Goen, Star Harvey, Shuandy Herrera, Nathan Hoffman, Tephanie Martinez and Jennifer Montiel

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