N.C. Health Officials Believe Syphilis Eradication Possible If Decreasing Incidence Trends Persist
Syphilis incidence in North Carolina is at its lowest point in recorded history, and health officials believe they are "on the verge of virtually wiping out" the disease in the state, which traditionally has been a "syphilis hot spot," the Charlotte Observer reports. In 1998, North Carolina recorded 723 new syphilis cases, more than any other state that year. However, an increase in federal funding to fight the disease over the past five years has helped the state Department of Health and Human Services add staff members to strengthen its syphilis prevention efforts, resulting in a 79% drop in new cases, according to the Observer. With the number of new cases decreasing -- dropping from 9.6 cases per 100,000 population in 1998 to 3.3 cases per 100,000 in 2002 -- health officials hope to bring the rate below one case per 100,000 people in 2005. "For us, that would be eradication," Evelyn Foust, head of the state health department's HIV/STD Prevention and Care Branch, said. However, Dr. Peter Leone, medical director of the HIV/STD Prevention and Care Branch, is "pessimistic" that syphilis eradication can be accomplished, according to the Observer. Leone, who helped write a recent study showing an HIV outbreak among N.C. college students, said that although the study did not focus on syphilis, researchers know that syphilis infection can cause skin lesions that facilitate HIV transmission, the Observer reports. Leone said he believes that syphilis preceded and helped the transmission of HIV among the N.C. college population, according to the Observer. "I'm not sure we can eliminate it. But we're going to try," he added (Stobbe, Charlotte Observer, 5/3).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.