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Don’t let syphilis turn your life upside down! Get tested.

You’ve likely seen our ads lately on YouTube, TikTok, or a billboard.

Our newest ad says, “Don’t let syphilis turn your life upside down.” As is often our strategy, we used the touchstones of pop culture and personal responsibility to connect with our community about this health concern.

We began sharing the message last summer, and it remains the same: If you’re 45 or younger and have sex, you need to get tested for syphilis.

Syphilis is sharply increasing in Pierce County. Our cases more than quadrupled from 58 in 2016 to 711 in 2022. The state and nation are also experiencing sizeable increases. Since historic lows in 2000, we saw more than 176,000 cases nationwide in 2021. Syphilis cases grew at alarming rates statewide, too.

We’ve also seen a big increase in babies born with syphilis. Syphilis can be especially deadly to babies. Pierce County’s cases of congenital syphilis increased from 2 in 2020 to 14 in 2022. State and nationwide numbers have increased recently as well.

The state is finalizing data for 2023, but they look a lot like what we saw in 2022. Cases among women continue to increase, as do cases in people who are heterosexual. Female syphilis cases accounted for 28% of all cases in 2020. That number rose to 42% in 2023. Cases also increased in 2023 among people who are homeless or unstably housed.

Getting the word out about the importance of testing through our campaign is one of the ways we’re working to reverse this trend.

What you need to know.

Syphilis is a bacterial sexually transmitted disease. You can get it through any kind of sex, and anyone who has sex can get it.

Many people who have syphilis may not notice symptoms. Infected people can spread it without knowing. If you have syphilis, you may notice:

  • Genital sores that don’t hurt and may look like ingrown hairs.
  • Patchy hair loss.
  • Rash.
  • Wart-like bumps on genitals.
  • Swollen lymph nodes.
  • Fever.
  • Muscle or joint pain.
  • Changes to vision or hearing.

A blood test from a healthcare provider, even if you don’t have symptoms, is the only way to know if you have syphilis. The right medicine can cure it.

Spread the word.

Our ads offer a great opportunity to talk to anyone—including kids, in ways that make sense for their age—about health. Young kids don’t need to worry about syphilis, but their parents and older siblings should know how to protect themselves. Make sure your kids know they can talk to you, a healthcare provider, or another trusted adult about any questions they have.

You can even pick up a bumper sticker in our lobby at the Health Department (3629 S. D St. Tacoma, WA 98418) to help spread the word!

We want to protect and improve the health of all people and places in Pierce County. Talking about health—all health—helps us do that.

Learn more about syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases at