Detroit News Examines City’s Syphilis Epidemic, ‘Failure’ of Health Department to Respond
The Detroit News on Sunday in a series of articles and informational pieces examined Detroit's syphilis epidemic and the "failure" of the city Health Department to "wage a serious battle" against the sexually transmitted disease despite "repeated warnings" from the CDC. Syphilis, which can be transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse, sharing needles and from mother to child, can cause brain damage, heart disease, arthritis and death if left untreated and can lead to developmental delays, physical deformities and death in infants born with the disease. Detroit had recorded 245 new cases of the sexually transmitted disease by July 30, and the city expects to record more than 500 cases by the end of 2002, according to the News. The CDC sent a letter to health department officials in the summer of 2001 urging the agency to use "every available state and local resource" to fight the disease, adding, "Your epidemic not only leads the nation, it also shows no sign of slowing." Other cities, such as Baltimore, Indianapolis, Memphis and Nashville, have effectively combated syphilis and have reduced the number of new infections. However, according to Jo Valentine, national program coordinator for syphilis elimination at the CDC, the Detroit Health Department, which has limited staff and resources, has had "a lot of starts and not much follow-through." In addition, the News states that the department has experienced problems with staffing, training, management and community outreach. Judith West, Detroit's deputy public health director and acting director of the health department, said that the department has reorganized and "made some changes" and is now "aggressive[ly]" addressing the city's syphilis problem (Hayes Taylor, Detroit News, 9/15). The other five articles, which profile the problems at the city's health department, examine the city's syphilis-infected population , look at how other U.S. cities have successfully fought the epidemic, provide facts about the disease, and show how Detroit-area education programs are working to prevent the spread of syphilis, can be found online.This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.