Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations
Durham County, N.C., Health Department Concerned About Rise in New Syphilis Cases
Durham County, N.C., health officials are concerned about a recent increase in the number of new syphilis cases and are worried that the sores caused by the disease may facilitate the transmission or acquisition of HIV infection, the Raleigh News & Observer reports. So far this year, the county health department has recorded 23 cases of syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease that can lead to paralysis, dementia and death if left untreated, compared to 16 cases in all of last year. Brian Letourneau, health director with the Durham County Health Department, said most of the cases that have been reported are in sex workers and men between the ages of 26 and 55. Letourneau said that health officials are particularly concerned because the outbreak originated in Durham, which has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the state. The presence of syphilis sores can increase HIV transmission risk twofold to fivefold, he noted. Disease specialists have traced the outbreak to a "circle of individuals" involved in the city's sex industry, and those people have been tested and treated. However, the health department is still trying to trace and notify all of the individuals' former partners. Stan Phillip, a public health regional supervisor with the state Department of Health and Human Services, said that syphilis, which is treatable with penicillin, can be prevented by using condoms, but noted that for some sex workers and their partners, condoms are "not a major priority" (Cheng, Raleigh News & Observer, 6/4).
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