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U.S. News

Lessons of Past Helping Curb Indiana Syphilis Outbreak

September 3, 2008

A sharp rise in cases of syphilis this year in Marion County prompted local health officials to intervene to prevent the spread of the STD. By mid-August, Indianapolis had 89 cases, more than any year since 2001. However, new cases now appear to be tapering off.

"For right now, we're looking like we're able to contain the infection," said Dr. Virginia Caine, a health department official. Officials added that lessons learned in the 1999 and 2000 syphilis outbreaks helped. In 1999, however, almost all of the patients were black and many were prostitutes. This year, the bulk of cases occurred in white men having sex with men, and more than half were HIV-positive.

To curb the spread of the disease, the health department used eight disease intervention specialists, double the number available during the earlier outbreaks. Also, this time, the health department took charge instead of using community organizations to spread the word. Among the steps taken this year:

  • Extensive interviews were done to determine where to reach patients.
  • Syphilis screening and education took place at bars, bathhouses, and online, based on the results of the interviews.
  • Partners of infected men were contacted to urge them to be tested and treated, if necessary.
  • Doctors were asked to screen their HIV-positive patients for syphilis every three months instead of once a year.
  • The use of on-the-spot rapid tests in the field is being considered.

These efforts are paying off: More than 250 people have been screened. However, Al Polin, former chairperson of the Stamp Out Syphilis Coalition, is calling for more billboards throughout the city, a strategy used to fight syphilis in the 1999 outbreak.

Back to other news for September 2008

Adapted from:
Indianapolis Star
8.25.2008; Shari Rudavsky

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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.
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