Health & Medicine

Punk rock meets ... STDs? Sacramento County poster on syphilis met with laughs online

While sexually transmitted diseases are no laughing matter, a recent Sacramento County public information campaign attracted online ribbing Wednesday.

“Some trends come back into style,” a poster marked with the county’s logo reads. “Syphilis shouldn’t be one of them.”

Those words are accompanied by a photo of a man wearing a suit and sunglasses. He has a huge, jet-black mohawk. The poster links to the county public health website.

Sacramento County Public Health tweeted the image almost a month ago, in May. It’s a clever enough concept for a public service announcement, but it didn’t appear to get any attention at the time – not a single retweet.

But a few weeks later, many local social media users can’t help but laugh about the poor model in the stock photo, who’s now inextricably linked to the STD.

An upload of the poster to popular social media website Reddit quickly became the Sacramento subreddit’s top post of the day Wednesday afternoon.

“I’ve seen these signs on the back of buses around the grid,” commented the user who posted it. “This stock photo model probably didn’t envision his mohawk photos being used quite this way.”

“You pose for a stock photo one day, the next you are the face of Syphilis in a major metro area,” another user wrote.

At least two less-embarrassing variations of the poster are apparently being used by the county. On the county’s public health website, the same slogan is used, but instead of a mohawk, it depicts a person wearing very-ripped jeans, with no face visible. A third Reddit user claims to have seen a version of the ad on a bus, using a turntable instead of clothing.

Regardless of its form or how unfortunate the turn of events may be for a particular stock photo model, the county has engaged in rigorous awareness campaigns the past few years, noting upticks in several different STDs, but syphilis in particular.

Data released last summer with numbers from 2017 showed a record number of STD diagnoses in 2017. Across California, gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia rates increased 45 percent compared to the rate observed over the previous five years.

County Public Health Officer Olivia Kasirye told The Sacramento Bee at the time that combating syphilis was the county’s priority in terms of STDs. Syphilis cases in Sacramento County increased by 136 percent between 2013 and 2017, state Department of Health data showed.

Pilot programs started by the county last November included free treatment and education centered on STDs offered at Los Rios Community College campuses.

Sacramento County had the sixth-highest rate of chlamydia, the eighth-highest rate of gonorrhea and the 10th-highest rate of primary and secondary syphilis in the state when the data was released.

All three of those diseases are curable, and health officials said they were looking at decreased condom use, an increase in sexual partners from social media and dating apps and accessibility of care as possible reasons for the increase.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.