San Juan Basin Public Health is offering free testing for sexually transmitted infections through Dec. 31 along with $15 Walmart gift cards to anyone who gets tested.
The department received a grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to provide the tests at no charge. While the tests are always free, the visits normally cost between $70 and $120. By offering completely free tests and visits as well as a modest financial incentive, SJBPH hopes to stem rising rates of STIs in the community.
La Plata County received an alert from CDPHE after the number of syphilis cases documented in the last 12 months exceeded the three-year average by more than two standard deviations.
There was an 82% increase in syphilis rates in the county from 2019 to 2020 and a 41% jump from 2020 to 2021. Preliminary numbers from this year indicate the trend may continue.
The proportion of women afflicted with the infection is also on the rise. Females comprised 14% cases in 2018 and 26% in 2021.
Syphilis has several stages and can present different symptoms at each one, ranging from sores in its primary stage to severe health problems afflicting many internal organs in its tertiary stage. It can be difficult to detect or diagnose without a test, making routine testing an essential part of maintaining one’s sexual health.
“This is just a great opportunity to make sure that you’re staying ahead of your sexual health,” SJBPH spokeswoman Megan Graham said.
STI rates have risen nationally since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, alarming many health care workers. SJBPH’s website says that the county’s syphilis levels are at their highest in over three decades.
In addition to testing, the department can also provide treatment options for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis; vaccinations for human papillomavirus and hepatitis A and B; as well as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for those at high risk of contracting HIV.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a guide to what tests individuals should receive on its website. Anyone interested in receiving a free, confidential test can call SJBPH at 335-2013 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.