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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
TEXAS: Syphilis Outbreak Detected in Houston, Harris County
Todd Ackerman
September 27, 2012
Houston Chronicle (09.26.12)

The Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS) has reported that the number of new syphilis cases doubled during the first eight months of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011. There were 318 cases of primary and secondary syphilis from January to August compared to174 reported for the same period last year—and a total of 264 for 2011. The 2012 numbers translate to a rate of 7.5 cases per 100,000 people, an increase from 4.2 per 100,000 for the same period in 2011. The most recent high rate before this was 7.8 cases per 100,000 in 2007. Approximately 60 percent of the cases were African Americans, 23 percent Hispanics, and nearly 16 percent Whites. Men outnumber women nearly five to one. In addition, roughly 39 percent of persons with infectious syphilis in 2012 tested positive for HIV. According to the HDHHS spokesperson, there was no single cause of the outbreak and the figures possibly reflect the normal waxing and waning of disease statistics. Top factors blamed for the increase were improved surveillance, such as city-sponsored music concerts that provide free STD screenings, and the use of social networking to arrange sexual encounters. Lupita Thornton, program manager for STDs at HDHHS, noted that the trend is most pronounced in urban areas and predominantly affects gay and bisexual men. Health officials sent an alert reminding medical providers—particularly those who treat mostly men—to determine whether patients are at increased risk for syphilis, to offer testing to at-risk patients and treatment to patients and their sexual partners who are infected, and to report all cases to local health departments. The health department response includes intensifying detection and community field work and expanding the schedules of HIV/STD mobile clinics. HDHHS is also advising immediate testing for men who have sex with men, people who participate in anonymous sex, persons who have had multiple sex partners, and those who test positive for other STDs.