October 5, 2016 at 12:12 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
D.C. bucks nat’l trend with decline in syphilis cases
Treponema pallidum, syphilis, STI, gay news, Washington Blade

Electron micrograph of Treponema pallidum. Treponema pallidum is the causative agent of syphilis. (Public domain image by the CDC)

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show a 15 percent increase in the number of nationwide syphilis infections from 2013 to 2014. And a newly released CDC study shows syphilis is “taking a particularly severe toll on gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (MSM), especially in the South.”

But in D.C., the number of reported syphilis cases has declined by 49 percent between 2011 and 2015, with nearly all of those cases coming from men who have sex with men, according to Michael Kharfen, director of the D.C. Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis Administration.

Kharfen said in the period from 2013 to 2014, which is the period the CDC conducted its study of syphilis cases among MSM, syphilis cases in D.C. dropped by 14 percent. He again said most of those cases were from men who have sex with men.

The CDC study doesn’t include MSM syphilis data for D.C. and six states. CDC officials said D.C. and the six states didn’t provide the gender of the partner of the person diagnosed with syphilis for 70 percent or more of the male syphilis cases, a threshold CDC established for calculating its “MSM” cases.

Kharfen said the CDC study came at a time when D.C. changed its data measuring system which resulted in computer “glitches” that prevented the city from providing “that kind of complete data that they would have been able to use as part of that study.”

Nevertheless, he said the D.C. data show unmistakably that the city had a significant decline in syphilis cases among men who have sex with men.

The CDC study, which calculated the number of MSM syphilis case per 100,000 people in a given state, shows that Virginia had 210.4 cases per 100,000 among MSM. The study shows that Maryland had 325.1 cases per 100,000.

By comparison, North Carolina had the highest rate – 748.3 case per 100,000 followed by Mississippi, 658.9 cases per 100,000; Louisiana, 601.8 cases per 100,000; and South Carolina, 536.9 cases per 100,000.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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