CHARLOTTE — The Mecklenburg County Health Department is urging more testing as a dramatic rise in syphilis cases puts the sexually transmitted disease back on the department’s high priority list. Other areas across the state are also dealing with a surprising increase in cases this year.

In Mecklenburg County, new cases of the STD have more than doubled during 2009. From Jan. 1 through the end of July, 98 new cases were reported. Only 45 cases were reported in the same period in 2008. Officials say the county’s infection rate is the second highest increase reported across the state. Forsyth County has the highest rate of increase this year; officials there have identified 100 new cases, compared to 27 in 2008.

Mecklenburg health officials said they would begin offering free and confidential syphilis and HIV testing on Tuesday evenings at Carolinas Medical Center’s Northpark location, 251 Eastway Dr. The free clinic will be open 6 p.m.-8 p.m.

Free testing continues at both Mecklenburg Health Department clinics: 2845 Beatties Ford Rd. and 249 Billingsley Rd. For more information on clinic testing times, call 704-336-6500.

Other walk-in locations for syphilis and HIV testing include: Metrolina Care Network Clinic, 5801 Executive Center Dr., Suite 114; Urban Ministries, 945 N. College St.; and Metrolina AIDS Project, 127 Scaleybark Rd.

The Lesbian & Gay Community Center of Charlotte, at 820 Hamilton St., Suite B-11, also offers free HIV testing on the first and third Wednesdays of every month, 5 p.m.-7 p.m.

In Forsyth County, state and local officials are planning a Rapid Intervention Outreach Team to address the outbreak. A two-day testing and education outreach campaign is planned for Aug. 28 and 29.

Patrice Toney, an HIV/STI prevention supervisor with the Forsyth County Health Department, said they are working to reach out to MSM and gay and bisexual men. They have a partnership with a local LGBT congregation and on the third Friday of every month, they organize outreach and educational efforts at a local club popular with gay and MSM men. Toney said the department will be working to build closer relationships with LGBT student organizations at area colleges.

Gay and bisexual men, as well as men who have sex with men (MSM), are at a higher risk of contracting syphilis, as officials have seen infection rates in these communities rise for seven straight years. Numbers released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that syphilis infections are up 81 percent. Gay and bisexual men and MSM represent 65 percent of the total number of cases.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.