Milwaukee Leaders Ramp Up Free STD Testing After Discovery Of HIV, Syphilis Cluster

Milwaukee Health Department Officials: Cases Of HIV And Syphilis Are Trending Younger

STD information brochures
Information brochures are on display inside of Austin Community Outreach Center, Tuesday, April 21, 2015, in Austin, Ind. The center offer One-Stop Shop HIV testing and a needle exchange program. Darron Cummings/AP Photo

Milwaukee Health Department officials, local health providers and nonprofits are reminding residents of free sexually transmitted disease testing available around the city. The push comes after the discovery of a cluster of 125 confirmed cases of HIV and syphilis.

Following a national trend, the number of HIV and STD cases are increasing citywide, according to city health officials.

They also report the age of people testing for HIV and syphilis continues trending downward. Unrelated to the cluster, three cases of congenital syphilis were recorded in 2017.

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Angela Hagy, director of disease control and environmental health for the Milwaukee Health Department, says the trend is cause for concern.

“It’s not unusual to see chlamydia and gonorrhea in those younger age groups,” she explained. “But our syphilis and HIV cases tended to be older and now we’re seeing that shift down over time.”

But Mike Gifford, president and chief executive officer of the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, says the severity of the problem isn’t new.

“For far too long HIV and STIs have caused a significant threat to our youth,” he said. “(The cluster) did not propel Milwaukee to the top of the list of American cities that are affected by STIs, we were already there.”

According to the most recent ranking of STDs in metropolitan areas, Milwaukee was first in gonorrhea in 2016. The city also ranked fourth for chlamydia.

Preliminary data show there were 117 new HIV cases in 2017, 53 cases of primary and secondary syphilis, 4,401 cases of gonorrhea and 9,725 cases of chlamydia.

Local leaders report that those especially vulnerable include men who have sex with men, people of color and women — many of these groups say they’ll be ramping up their outreach efforts to minimize the spread and contraction of STDs.

Milwaukee officials also say they’re focusing on reaching out to those under 18 years of age.

The city’s health commissioner Patricia McManus is urging adults to encourage young people to either abstain or use protection and get regularly tested if sexually active.

And while some nonprofits that promote safe sex already partner with Milwaukee Public Schools, a spokeswoman for AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin says organizations are beginning conversations with MPS to ramp up school outreach.

Some organizations that provide testing, education services or housing support include:

  • AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin
  • Diverse and Resilient
  • Greater Milwaukee Center for Health and Wellness
  • Holton Street Clinic
  • Sixteenth Street Community Health Center
  • BESTD Clinic
  • Wisconsin HIV Primary Care Support Network
  • Pathfinders
  • Milwaukee LGBT Community Center