Syphilis Flourishes in African-American Communities
Although syphilis rates in the United States have dropped overall, the disease continues to thrive in "marginalized communities," where residents have little access to health and social services, the Los Angeles Times/Detroit News reports. Half of the nation's 6,700 cases of syphilis are confined to 25 counties, making the disease "one of the most glaring examples of racial disparity in U.S. health care," the Times/Detroit News reports. The rate of syphilis among African Americans is 30 times higher than the rate among whites, and blacks accounted for 75% of all syphilis cases in 1999. One reason for this disparity is that "a disproportionate number of blacks live in poor, isolated communities," the Times/Detroit News reports. In addition, high syphilis rates within a community often "signal" the presence of other problems, such as other STDs, infant mortality and prostitution. But there "is no good medical reason for [syphilis] to endure," since it can be prevented with condom use, is "easily" detected with a blood test and "easily" cured with penicillin when detected early. Dr. Peter Leone, director of STD clinics in Wake County, N.C., said, "If we can't defeat syphilis, it doesn't bode well" for other STDs such as HIV.
The racial disparity in syphilis infection rates has caught the attention of federal officials, who have crafted a campaign to fight the disease. The CDC has designed a program targeting the 25 most afflicted counties, most of which are located in the Southeast and Midwest. Last month, Congress allocated $33 million a year to fund the federal syphilis-elimination campaign -- nearly twice the amount previously given to fight the disease. While lawmakers and health officials can expand medical services, increase screening and respond to syphilis outbreaks, they "can only do so much," the Times/Detroit News reports. Health officials are hoping to boost the syphilis-eradication campaign with help from "established community groups," which can "tap into a community's trust" more effectively than government and health officials (Marquis, Los Angeles Times/Detroit News, 1/11).