You may have noticed the billboard – in fact, you’ve definitely noticed the billboard – right where Holloway Drive feeds into Santa Monica Boulevard, smack dab in the middle of West Hollywood. The advertisement declares in no-nonsense Helvetica that “Syphilis is Serious” accompanied by a close-up of a young man’s chest with a full-blown syphilitic rash. In a city accustomed to luxe billboards with beautiful men and women airbrushed within an inch of their life, the clinical photo is a bit of a departure. That’s the point.
The billboard is nothing new for West Hollywood. The organization behind the PSA, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF,) has long turned to simple, sometimes shocking advertisements to get their message across and promote their STD treatment services. But based on a new report released by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) on rates of sexually transmitted infections in 2017, it seems like AHF may need to take out a few more ads.
According to the report, Californian men and women have seen a dramatic rise in the rates of sexually transmitted diseases, with men presenting the most cases of gonorrhea and syphilis and women reporting the most cases of chlamydia.
Overall, cases of gonorrhea rose 16 percent in 2017 when compared to 2016, with a total of 75,450 documented cases in the Golden State. People under the age of 25 represented a third of all cases of gonorrhea. One factor that has complicated the battle against gonorrhea is the rise of antibiotic-resistant strains that resist standard treatments.
Syphilis, it turns out, was also serious, with a 20 percent increase of cases to 13,605 – the highest number in California since 1987.
Cases of chlamydia also broke records, climbing 9 percent to 218,710, the highest number since reporting began in 1990.
“STDs are preventable by consistently using condoms, and many STDs can be cured with antibiotics,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith in a statement. “Regular testing and treatment are very important for people who are sexually active, even for people who have no symptoms. Most people infected with an STD do not know it.”
One of the most concerning data points in the report is the disparity in rates of STIs between Caucasians and African-Americans, who experience infections five times more frequently than white populations. While the issue of health disparities between racial groups is multifaceted, it implicates a failure of educational and outreach efforts into Black communities.