Alabama: Syphilis at Epidemic Proportions in Western Jefferson County
August 31, 2007
The Jefferson County Health Department's director of disease control is warning of a county-wide outbreak of syphilis that is hitting western sections particularly hard. The disease is especially concentrated in western Birmingham, Fairfield, and Bessemer, according to Dr. Elizabeth Turnipseed.
"People are mobile and often have partners outside their immediate community," said Turnipseed, who recently appealed for help from the Bessemer City Council. "What is currently concentrated in the western area could shift easily or expand to a new part of town over the course of this year."
Thirty-seven percent of Jefferson's 505 new syphilis diagnoses in 2006 were concentrated in the county's western portions, Turnipseed said. And reports this year are up from last year: The county logged 259 syphilis cases through Aug. 1 last year but recorded 290 through the same period this year.
"I really worry that the use of crystal meth, which is increasingly popular in the rural areas and associated with hypersexuality and risky sexual behavior, will lead to increasing transmission of disease in the outlying areas of the county," Turnipseed said.
"We need to learn to destigmatize STDs and feel it's OK to go to the health department. Getting tested does not make you a dirty person. Getting checked is the responsible thing to do," Turnipseed said, noting that the current outbreak is mostly affecting heterosexual men ages 35-55.
08.29.2007; Robert K. Gordon