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Damien Center sees alarming increase of syphilis cases in Marion County

People are urged to get tested for disease
Posted at 6:56 AM, Dec 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-02 06:56:19-05

INDIANAPOLIS — For months, Damien Center President & CEO Alan Witchey said the organization has seen an alarming increase of syphilis cases in Marion County.

This causes concern because of what it more than likely means is next.

"It tends to be a leading indicator that there will be other sexually transmitted diseases like hepatitis C and HIV," Witchey said.

The situation is so dire, it has caught the attention of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

"We were recently contacted by the CDC. They were very concerned about the growth in the syphilis rates here in Marion County, greater Indianapolis area," Witchey said.

RESOURCE | Why it's important to treat syphilis quickly

The CDC told WRTV, from mid-October to mid-November, they assisted the Marion County Health Department by conducting virtual interviews with staff from the local health department and community-based organizations, as well as medical providers, and people in the community who are at increased risk for syphilis.

They say the purpose of the assessment was to assist the health department in these three areas:

  • Understanding factors that may be driving syphilis increases in the community
  • Understanding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sexual behaviors and access to care
  • Gathering suggestions for programmatic responses to address increases in syphilis

RESOURCE | Get tested at the Damien Center

WRTV has reached out to the Marion County Health Department for numbers of syphilis cases, what communities are being most impacted, and what plans they have to address the issue.

Marion County Public Health Director Dr. Virginia Caine said the department is working to compile that information for us and it will be shared soon.

"We expect to see an increase in the city in HIV cases and so we are working really hard to create awareness, do education, and get people in to get tested to know their status," Witchey said. "The CDC estimates that there are a thousand people in this city who are living with HIV and don't know their status and those thousand people are more likely to spread the virus again and again."

Getting tested, Witchey says, is the easiest way to stop the spread of syphilis, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections. Testing at the Damien Center is free and confidential. Information on when the Damien Center is open and offers testing can be found here.