Detroit Fights Rise in Syphilis Cases With Confidential Testing, Contact TracingSyphilis is on the rise in the Detroit area, especially among "older, working-class adults," the Detroit Free Press reports. Detroit had 462 reported new syphilis infections in the first six months of 2001, compared to 396 during the same period last year. There were 761 reported cases of syphilis in the city in 2000, although this number is down from 2,733 infections in 1991. According to the CDC, the city's 1991 "syphilis epidemic" stemmed from "the exchange of sex for drugs." But the current rise in the syphilis rate is the result of "people having unprotected sex with multiple partners," with the "highest rates" of infection occurring among the "working, professional class" and heterosexuals, Dawn Jackson, syphilis elimination coordinator for the Detroit Health Department, said. Ninety-three percent of all Detroit syphilis infections occur among African Americans, and more than 54% of those infections occur among men.
Stepping Up Elimination Efforts
To bring down the rate of new infections, the city has adopted several new strategies and expanded older ones. The Detroit Health Department received an additional $200,000 from city, state and federal funding to fight syphilis, and Jackson developed a new campaign to get more people tested for the disease. The campaign, called Teaching Elimination of Syphilis Today, or TEST, includes ads on city buses that draw attention to the disease and confidential syphilis screenings at city health clinics. City health department "disease intervention specialists" then contact the sex partners of individuals who test positive for syphilis and "arrange for them to be tested" as well. The health department is also teaming up with communities, jails, detention centers, centers for the homeless and groups that work with young women to develop elimination strategies. The Michigan health department hopes to cut the number of syphilis infections to 40 cases per one million people by the year 2005 (Akther, Detroit Free Press, 8/7).