September 1, 2011
While new syphilis reports increased only slightly in Cleveland and Cuyahoga County in 2010, the number of people diagnosed with both HIV and syphilis is rising.
Cuyahoga County recorded 159 new syphilis cases last year, just one case more than the total number in 2009. Of new cases, 69 were primary and secondary syphilis, the stage at which the STD is most infectious. The majority of diagnoses were in Cleveland. Ninety-one percent were male; 32 percent were under 25; 43 percent were ages 25-34; and most were black. In addition, 48 percent of people diagnosed with syphilis also were found to have HIV.
"The real concern is that [syphilis is] an outbreak that is traveling with HIV," said Dr. Ann Avery, an infectious-disease specialist at MetroHealth Medical Center and medical director of the Cleveland Department of Public Health.
Local health officials first noted the rise of syphilis in mid-2007 and elevated it to outbreak status in 2009. Cleveland's rate of 33 cases per 100,000 residents during the past two years has eclipsed those of Akron and Columbus. Cincinnati has Ohio's highest rate, 125.8 cases per 100,000.
Several years ago, Ohio diverted Cuyahoga's share of a CDC grant to eliminate syphilis to other areas of the state with higher infection rates. Cleveland has managed to access a small portion of that grant money on its own in the last two years, but the county has not, said Terry Allan, Cuyahoga's health commissioner. That lack of funds has crippled county syphilis education efforts, he said.