U.S. News & World Report Profiles How Public Health Programs Are Fighting Rise in Syphilis Cases
The June 2 issue of U.S. News & World Report profiles several public health programs that are attempting to confront a nationwide rise in the number of syphilis cases. Syphilis increases the chances of transmitting or contracting HIV by up to five times. Therefore, a rise in the number of syphilis cases "raises the frightening specter of a new AIDS epidemic" in the United States, according to U.S. News. Although the actual increase in syphilis cases is small -- there are currently just over 6,000 cases in the United States -- the trend shows that people are slipping back into unsafe sexual behavior and could become a "breeding ground" for HIV, according to U.S. News. The trend is so disturbing to health officials that the CDC has sent representatives throughout the country to research new intervention strategies. In one such program, the Baltimore-based not-for-profit Health Education Resource Organization, outreach workers run a syphilis screening van that travels throughout the city offering free testing (Levine, U.S. News & World Report, 6/2).
U.S. News also profiles the research challenges surrounding the development of microbicides, which some say could be "as revolutionary as the [birth control] pill in women's reproductive health" (Hobson, U.S. News & World Report, 6/2). Microbicides include a range of products such as gels, films, sponges and other products that could help prevent the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in March announced that it will award $60 million to the International Partnership for Microbicides for research into the use of microbicides to prevent HIV transmission (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/1). Researchers hope to have a product on the market by 2007 (U.S. News & World Report, 6/2).
NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday" reported on a public education campaign on the Navajo Nation reservation in Arizona and New Mexico in which public health officials discuss syphilis in local bars. According to Indian Health Service physician Jonathan Iralu, there "seems to be a very clear link" between syphilis transmission and alcohol use. As alcohol is illegal on the Navajo reservation, drinking associated with the outbreak occurs in border towns, NPR reports. The segment also includes comments from Navajo Division of Health spokesperson George Joe and Lucy Lozano, manager of a Gallup, N.M., bar that was the first to allow health workers to discuss syphilis with patrons on the premises (Whitney, "Weekend Edition Sunday," NPR, 6/1). The full segment is available online in RealPlayer.