Rate of Syphilis Infection Nearly Doubles in Tarrant County, Texas, Report Shows
The rate of syphilis infection in Tarrant County, Texas, which includes Fort Worth, nearly doubled last year after "steadily declining" over the last decade, a county health department report to the county Commissioners Court has found, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports. The rate of syphilis rose from 6.9 cases per 100,000 residents in 2001 to 14.2 cases per 100,000 county residents in 2002, according to Scott Hanlan, assistant director of operations for the county health department. Hanlan said the increase has been seen mostly among heterosexuals, particularly sex workers who use illegal drugs. The report also found that the rate of syphilis in nearby Dallas County almost doubled in 2002, but neither area experienced a similar increase in the gonorrhea or chlamydia rates. In addition, the report found no comparable increase in the rate of syphilis in the state's other large metropolitan areas of Harris and Bexar counties, which include Houston and San Antonio, respectively. Dr. Tim Coleridge, chair of the family medicine department at the University of North Texas Science Center, said that syphilis rates may have declined over the previous 10 years because of increased condom use due to HIV/AIDS prevention efforts. However, now that the number of new AIDS cases has decreased and more drugs have become available to treat the disease, "[u]nprotected sex is becoming more commonplace," Coleridge said. He added, "If people don't think they can get syphilis from oral intercourse they are wrong." Tarrant County health officials, in conjunction with the Texas Department of Health, the Dallas regional Syphilis Elimination Team and others, in April will begin an "action plan" and create a syphilis response team, Hanlan said (Strassman, Forth Worth Star-Telegram, 1/8).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.