Nothing to laugh about 

In case you didn’t notice, tact has never been one of News Hits’ strong suits. But when it comes to talking about syphilis — and other sexually transmitted diseases — we take the subject very seriously.

Here’s why: Syphilis increases HIV transmission by three to five times, can cause blindness and developmental disabilities in newborns, and affects African-Americans 30 times more often than whites.

So, it is with heavy hearts that we tell you that syphilis and gonorrhea cases are on the rise in the Motor City, according to a report recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Detroit, which ranked seventh in reported syphilis cases, had 288 reported cases last year, says Mark Wilson, STD project officer for the Detroit Health Department. This may not sound like much in a city with nearly a million residents. But this is just the beginning of an upward trend, says Wilson. Though syphilis rates are at an all-time low across the country, about every seven to 10 years its rates increase, explains Wilson.

“If you look at the national picture, it’s creeping up in lots of major metro areas … like New York, Chicago and Baltimore,” says Wilson.

In 1991, Detroit had about 1,000 syphilis cases. Efforts to track and treat patients helped reduce that number to 89 by 1998; but syphilis cases began to rise the following year, climbing to 198. Wilson says that he expects to see between 300 and 400 syphilis cases this year.

The good news is that the CDC is working like crazy to eliminate syphilis by 2003 — and our national leaders are even lending a hand. Well, sort of. Congress granted the health organization $33 million toward the effort — just $2.8 million shy of the total amount the CDC says it needs to accomplish its goal.

Wilson says that the CDC gave the Detroit Health Department, which has an annual budget of $1.5 million, $190,000 earmarked to specifically combat syphilis.

Will that be enough?

“That will help, but until we get the changes in place — the new staff and the outreach activities — it’s hard to say what more is needed,” explains Wilson.

Syphilis is not the only STD plaguing the community. Gonorrhea is also on the rise in Detroit, according to the CDC study. After a two-decade trend of declining gonorrhea rates, they went up from 7,900 in 1999 to about 10,000 last year.

But unlike syphilis, Wilson attributes the surge in gonorrhea rates to improved tracking and tests.

“In an effort to eradicate it we are seeing more cases,” he says.

For free STD tests and counseling call the Detroit Health Department at 313-876-4176.

Ann Mullen contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette. He can be reached at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]

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