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National News

Syphilis Cases in Detroit on the Rise

September 16, 2002

Cases of a centuries-old scourge are on the rise in Detroit, and federal health officials say the city has been slow to react to the syphilis problem. As of July 30, Detroit recorded 245 new cases and could see 500 by year's end, according to a state health official. That's well above other cities that have grappled with a syphilis problem. Baltimore reported 53 new cases as of June and Indianapolis has 24 new cases through August.

CDC has warned the Detroit Health Department about the problem. In 1997, Detroit reported 94 new cases. By 1999, it had doubled and in 2000, the number hit 274. In a May 2001 letter, written to the state and Detroit health departments, CDC said "syphilis elimination in Detroit is not possible" unless critical issues such as hiring key staff, accountability, and the development of efficient disease intervention systems are addressed. Two months later, CDC officials wrote: "If the Detroit epidemic is going to be under control the utilization of every available state and local resource is going to be required. ... Your epidemic not only leads the nation it also shows no sign of slowing."

According to CDC and state health department documents, the Detroit Health Department's STD Program has numerous problems with management and dissemination of information. "Having limited staff and limited resources, there have been a lot of starts and not much follow-through" in Detroit, said Jo Valentine, CDC's national program coordinator for syphilis elimination. Valentine, who led a federal health team that closely examined the Detroit Health Department, said the Detroit program attempted to get the word out to residents, but only one staff member was assigned to provide basic syphilis training to Detroit's many organizations.

Judith West, the city's deputy public health director and acting health officer, said the department has reorganized and made some changes.

Back to other CDC news for September 16, 2002

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Adapted from:
Associated Press

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Syphilis -- a Dreadful Disease on the Move
Syphilis Fact Sheet
Basic Questions and Answers About Syphilis and Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM)
More Statistics on Syphilis in Midwestern U.S. States