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Early syphilis rates climb 22% in 2009

Posted by db last modified September 10, 2010

An update in surveillance data reveals a climb in syphilis rates for Cuyahoga County and Cleveland. Two reports were made public, one for the community and another more technical report for the medical and prevention agencies.

Early syphilis rates climb 22% in 2009

Cover - Report to Community

Updated data provided by state and local public health departments reveal a 22% increase in the rate of early syphilis in 2009.

The rate of early syphilis (primary, secondary and early latent stages) increased from 8.10 to 9.88 per 100,000 population. This reflects a jump from 104 to 126 cases in the county; for 2009, 80 (63.5%) of cases were Cleveland residents.

Two reports released

Two reports were released that describe the outbreak.

A Community report explains the symptoms, increase in cases, who is being infected (groups at risk due to sexual activity) and where to get screened. This report was presented to the public on September 9, 2010.

A detailed technical report provides tables detailing risk groups and data on risky behaviors, including HIV co-infection, age distribution of cases, drug and risk activity in the past 12 months (e.g. trading sex for drugs, use of the internet to hook up with partners, prior history of STDs). This report was written for the medical and public health community, service agencies involved in STD prevention and care.

Youth at greater risk of transmission

Over one-third (37.6%) of the new cases are being reported among youth age 13 to 24 years. More details are available in the reports. A map of recent cases from 2008 and 2009 among youth by zip code is shown in the report. Clusters of cases were identified in 44108 (Bratenahl; Glenville, Forest Hills in Cleveland) and in 44105 (South Broadway, Union-Miles, Corlett neighborhoods of Cleveland).

HIV and syphilis risk among MSM/bisexual males

More than half of the males reported with syphilis whose primary risk of transmission was through sex with other males, called MSM males, were also HIV-positive. A syphilis infection can dramatically increase the risk of transmission of the HIV virus. It was not clear from the data whether the case had been diagnosed as HIV positive before or at the time of syphilis diagnosis.

MSM/bisexual males are strongly encouraged by public health officials and the medical community to take greater responsibility to prevent HIV and syphilis transmission by being screened regularly, using condoms and watching for symptoms. Syphilis lesions can be hidden in the mouth or rectum, or may be mistaken for a herpes lesion.  Responsibility means taking greater responsibility to protect both themselves and others.

Hetrosexuals also at risk

The majority of heterosexual males and females reported with early syphilis have been among African Americans (78% of all cases in 2009). Condom use was poor, with only 14% always using condoms for vaginal intercourse.

Updated data

A new source of data from the Ohio Department of Health, reconciled and shared with officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) was received by local public health officials and analyzed. Additional cases were included in this new update, causing public health officials to update their previous report of a 15% rate decrease using preliminary data from April and reported in May.


Keywords: Disparity, Evidence-based medicine, HIV/AIDS, Local, Maps, Maternal Infant and Child Health, Municipal, Pregnancy, STD, Safe Sex, Statistics, Teens, Women's health

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