How One Latino is Fighting the Spread of Syphilis


In the last couple of year, people infected with syphilis has increased across the country. Just in Los Angeles alone, syphilis cases have gone up 47 percent from 2011 to 2015.

MORE: This Is Real: Your iPhone Will Soon Be Able To Test For HIV & Syphilis

Although this sexually transmitted disease can be easily cured with antibiotics, such as penicillin, if left untreated it can cause serious damage to the brain, heart, nervous system, and even lead to death. That's why a team from the Los Angeles County Public Health Department is helping prevent the spread of syphilis by tracking down people who could be infected. 

Roberto Rocha, a supervising health investigator who works in the HIV and STD division, is one of the leading workers conducting the search. The 42-year-old sets out to find anyone who has been tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease or HIV. You may be asking, "How does Rocha get this information?" Well, in the city of Los Angeles any testing conducted in a clinic or hospital, gets reported to the LACPHD. From there, Rocha and his team track the person who got tested and discloses the information. Although Rocha does call patients who have been diagnosed with syphilis or HIV, a lot of younger patients don’t answer and he has to get a hold of them at their homes or workplaces.

"Most of the time I am a disease chaser," Rocha told DailyMail. "We'll go to the person's work, where they hang out, wherever they could possibly be." Disclosing such sensitive information is not easy, but Rocha explained it is important for the health worker to make the person finding out the news of testing positive feel comfortable. "Once we give them that information it is about calming them down," he said. "You need to be their confidant." 

PLUS: How At-Risk Are You to Catch an STI?

Since syphilis is on a rapid rise, Rocha's goal is to get to everyone faster to stop the spread of the disease.