MILWAUKEE, Wis. — About 125 people including high school students have contracted HIV, syphilis or both in a “cluster” outbreak here, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.
Three local babies were also born with syphilis last year, health officials said.
“This is an epidemic people are not talking about enough, and it leads to people taking unnecessary risks,” said Melissa Ugland, a public health consultant who works with a number of local nonprofit organizations that focus on public health, according to the Sentinel.
There has been no announcement to the general public from the Milwaukee Health Department as of Tuesday.
Fewer than 10 percent of the 125 people who tested positive are Milwaukee Public Schools students, but health care experts anticipate that the numbers could increase as more people come forward, the Sentinel reports.
A cluster is an aggregation of disease closely grouped in time and place. This cluster was identified as such because the people in it could all be connected and were in contact with each other during a 12-month, identifiable period, the Sentinel reports citing health officials.
Most of those in the group are men and 45 percent were HIV positive, Ugland and other health care advocates said. The Sentinel did not address how many of those were men who have sex with men.
Ugland said she did not know which school or schools were impacted by the cluster but she said it could be several.
In a statement, the school district said the Health Department informed its staff that the entire city is experiencing an increase in sexually transmitted infections in young people ages 15-24.
“Because schools have a significant number of students in the 15-18 age group, we are working with the Milwaukee Health Department, in a collaborative and preventive effort, to share information with young people in middle schools and high schools to keep them healthy and to protect their health,” the statement said.
The number of those affected may grow.
“(The cluster) was still considered ongoing; they were continuing to try to track down some folks,” Ugland told the Sentinel.
Public health advocates are labeling the cluster a “sentinel event” because of the number of young people becoming HIV positive and the fact that a baby was born with syphilis.
Health officials first became aware of a growing problem with sexually transmitted infections in mid-December after several people reported having HIV or syphilis symptoms, sources said, according to the Sentinel.