The confirmed cases of HIV and syphilis are rising dramatically in McLennan County, prompting the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District to go public with a request that sexually active residents get tested.

Since Jan. 1, 12 new cases of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, have been diagnosed in McLennan County. Eleven of the 12 cases have been identified in sexually active men having sex with men, Dr. Farley Verner, an infectious diseases specialist, said at a news conference held Friday by the Health District.

“Last year, we had 20 new HIV cases diagnosed for the whole year, so we are seeing quite an increase,” Verner, who serves as the district’s health authority, said .

He said he thinks the increase in confirmed HIV cases is due to use of websites to arrange sexual encounters.

Since March 14, five primary and secondary cases of syphilis have been diagnosed in McLennan County, according to the district, and all involved men having sex with other men.

Primary and secondary syphilis are the most infectious stages.

“We had a total of 11 syphilis cases for all of 2016,” said Kelly Craine, spokeswoman for the health district, during an interview. “This year, we had five in one month. Six in one month is considered cause for concern countywide, according to guidelines established by the Department of Social and Health Services. We didn’t want to wait to have that sixth before taking action.”

Concern over the numbers prompted the health district to release what it termed a public health alert.

“Testing can be done with a primary care provider or at the Health District complex at 225 W. Waco Drive, Suite 209,” a press release stated. “The district provides free, confidential consulation between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.”

No appointment is necessary, and off-site testing is available upon request, according to the press release.

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