SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The spike in numbers just might be enough to put someone's love-life on hold. Santa Barbara County health officials say a local increase in syphilis and chlamydia cases reflects a national trend.
Charity Thoman, deputy health officer for Santa Barbara County's Public Health Department, cites three key reasons for the spike in local numbers: People aren't using latex condoms; they're having sex with multiple partners; and they're not getting tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
"Gay and bisexual men, men who have sex with men" are most at risk for contracting the highly contagious syphilis disease, according to Thoman.
In 2010 there were four local confirmed cases of syphilis. In 2013 that number jumped to 22. And between January and June of this year health officials have logged 19 confirmed cases.
"Syphilis is back," Thoman said. "Syphilis is here, it spreads, it's very contagious," she said.
Thoman said many Americans are under the impression that the discovery of penicillin in the 1940s wiped away the threat of the potentially deadly disease. Not true.
There are three forms of syphilis. The first starts with a genital lesion. If left untreated, it can advance to a secondary form that causes a rash on the palms of an infected person's hands or the soles of their feet. The third or tertiary form eventually attacks the heart or brain, and is fatal.
But Thoman warned the so-called "latent phase" -- generally between the secondary and tertiary phases -- is arguably the most concerning; It has no symptoms and can last for 20 years or more.
If caught early, penicillin and other antibiotics are used to treat syphilis.
Antibiotics are also used to treat chlamydia.
"Chlamydia is a very common infection," Thoman said. "It's estimated that 3 percent of the U.S. is infected with chlamydia. That's a big number," Thoman said.
Up to 70 percent of woman who've contracted chlamydia have no symptoms. Others may experience pelvic pain; men may experience a clear or milky discharge.
Those most at risk are college-aged men and women between 20 and 24 years of age.
Last year, county health officials logged more than 1,800 cases of chlamydia. More than 761 cases have been reported in the first six months of this year.
"Doctors and patients need to talk about sex," Thoman said. "The kind of sex, the frequency of sex, genital lesions and symptoms," Thoman said.
Health officials recommend people get tested once a year for STD's or with every new partner.
Planned Parenthood is a great source for testing, or a person's private doctor. All it takes is a blood test and in some cases, it's done for free.