CDC official discusses transmission of syphilis in lecture

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Bruce Furness of the STD Control Program and National Syphilis Elimination Rapid Response Team said the Center for Disease Control is working to reduce, and eventually end, the sustained transmission of syphilis, at a lecture in Ross Hall early this month.

“Syphilis has much public health importance because if left untreated the disease spreads to the whole body,” Bruce Furness said in a lecture at Ross Hall. “And if present, the chance of contracting HIV increases immensely.”

During the 1980s and 1990s, the prevalence of syphilis decreased nationally while remaining widespread among poor black communities in the rural south, Furness said.

In 2000 syphilis reemerged nationally in large numbers in urban centers. In the D.C. area alone the amount of syphilis cases since 2000 has increased by 200 percent.

There has also been a shift in terms of the socioeconomic classes the sexually transmitted disease affects.

In the District, for example, more and more cases of the disease are reported in the Adams Morgan and Georgetown neighborhoods. In the 1980s and 1990s, syphilis patients came mostly from D.C.’s Southeast section.

Furness said this socioeconomic shift has made the CDC’s job of collecting syphilis data much more difficult. Instead of going to publicly funded clinics for diagnosis and treatment, more wealthy syphilis patients tend to use private doctors for treatment. This practice makes it more difficult for the CDC to collect data.

“By 2010, we plan to reduce the number of syphilis cases to less than 2.2 per 100,000 people,” Furness said. In 2003 there were about 32,000 cases of syphilis in the United States.

In order to achieve this short-term goal the CDC plans to enhance public health services by improving outbreak response to the disease and to suppress spread of the disease in target populations as best it can.

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