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FOR RELEASE: November 29, 2005
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Cluster of Syphilis Cases Identified in Tulsa County

The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced today that it has identified an increased number of syphilis cases occurring in the Tulsa County area among men who have sex with men.

In routine disease surveillance efforts, state health officials noted that during the first eight months of 2005, 20 syphilis cases were identified in Tulsa County. Of those cases, nine, or 45 percent, occurred in men who were having sex with men. In 2004, 10 of 23 syphilis cases in Tulsa County, or 43 percent, were also reported in men having sex with men. In comparison, Oklahoma County reported 103 syphilis cases during these time periods and only 12, or 12 percent of the cases, were reported among men having sex with men.

“We are very concerned about this increased level of syphilis reported in gay and bisexual men in Tulsa County. Our data may be a warning sign that this population is most at risk for developing syphilis in Oklahoma,” said Michael Harmon, chief of the HIV/STD Service of the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Harmon said infection with syphilis also makes it easier to transmit and acquire HIV infection sexually. “The risk behaviors for both syphilis and HIV are similar, and the presence of syphilis lesions also increase the risk of HIV transmission,” he said. “Consequently, persons whose risk behaviors put them at high risk need to be aware and seek testing,” he urged. “Early detection and treatment are crucial to prevent further damage syphilis may cause to the body.”

State health officials have asked health care providers in the Tulsa area, particularly those who serve gay and bisexual men, to expand their sexually transmitted disease (STD) screening and prevention efforts to reduce the serious health consequences of STDs, particularly syphilis.

Syphilis is often diagnosed after ulcer-like lesions called chancres appear at the exposed site. Chancres may be painless, and it typically takes two to four weeks after becoming infected for the chancres to appear. Because the exposure site may be a part of the body that is not seen, the chancre may be missed and therefore, diagnosis may be missed or delayed. Health officials recommend that each person assess his/her own risk and seek syphilis testing if there are multiple sexual partners and protection barriers are not being used.

For more information about syphilis or other sexually transmitted diseases, call the Tulsa City-County Health Department at (918) 595-4292, or the 24-hour access HIV/AIDS Hotline at 1-800-535-2437.

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