Department of Health Encourages Testing to Lower Risk of Sexually-Transmitted Diseases

HARRISBURG – As the number of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in Pennsylvania continues to increase, Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine on Friday encouraged all residents to get tested to stay healthy and prevent the spread of STDs.

“Sexually-transmitted diseases are serious diseases that impact many Pennsylvanians each year,” Dr. Levine said. “It is essential that all residents are aware of the risks and dangers associated with STDs.

“Many of these diseases can be easily diagnosed and treated, which is why we encourage all residents to talk to their doctor about getting tested so we can further prevent diseases and keep our residents healthy.”

The department collects data on several STDs on its Web site. In 2018, seven congenital syphilis cases were reported in the state; the highest number of cases in more than 25 years. Congenital syphilis occurs when a mother with syphilis passes the infection on to her baby during pregnancy.

Primary and secondary syphilis in Pennsylvania is currently at the highest rate in more than 20 years. Primary syphilis reported in women of child-bearing age (women aged 15 to 44) increased 47 percent; from 87 cases in 2017 to 128 cases in 2018.

A person with primary syphilis generally has a sore or sores at the infection site. These are usually (but not always) firm, round and painless. Individuals with secondary syphilis may have a skin rash, swollen lymph nodes and fever. The signs and symptoms of primary and secondary syphilis can be mild and may not be noticed, which is why it is important to regularly get tested.

Individuals under age 30 in Pennsylvania accounted for:

  • 49 percent of the reported primary and secondary syphilis in 2018;
  • 65 percent of the reported gonorrhea in 2018; and
  • 84 percent of the reported chlamydia in 2018.

The department operates the STD Program with the mission of preventing and intervening in the transmission of STDs. Part of that work includes partnering with local health care providers at free and confidential STD clinics which exist across the state.

There are a number of ways to lower your risk for getting STDs, including:

  • Abstinence: STDs are only transmitted through sexual activity (i.e., anal, vaginal or oral);
  • Choosing one partner and agreeing to be sexually active only with each other. It is still important that you and your partner get tested for STDs and HIV, and share your test results with one another before having sex;
  • Limiting the number of people you have sex with; and
  • Using latex condoms and dental dams the right way every time you have sex.

For more information about STDs, visit the Department of Health Web site at or follow on Facebook and Twitter.

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