10/16/09 — Health officials: Syphilis, AIDS up in county

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Health officials: Syphilis, AIDS up in county

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on October 16, 2009 1:46 PM

HIV is still a serious problem in Wayne County, and likewise there has been a dramatic increase in syphilis cases, health officials say.

"(Syphilis) is a disease that 10 years ago, we thought would have been eliminated by now," Health Director James Roosen said. "After several years of declining rates, in the last couple of years it's increased."

The rise can be attributed in part to the lack of testing and follow-up by residents, Roosen said.

Nearly three years ago, the communicable diseases branch of the N.C. Division of Public Health launched an HIV testing and education campaign. In 2007, Wayne County was part of "Get Real Get Tested," with 312 residents tested.

Holly Watkins, of the state's Department of Health and Human Services, is coordinator for the campaign.

"We go into different areas that are seeing high numbers," she said. "We have been all over the state this year. I believe this is our ninth or 10th campaign for the year."

In Wayne County, the free HIV and syphilis testing date will be Friday, Nov. 6, from 3 to 7 p.m. A mobile unit is scheduled to be parked in the Andy's parking lot off Breazeale Avenue in Mount Olive.

The state will also canvass an unannounced neighborhood, going door-to-door with the campaign, Ms. Watkins said.

Officials would not speculate on the reason for spiking numbers of cases of HIV and syphilis, except to say that it is important to get the word out.

"In rural areas, transportation can be an issue. We want to make sure that we'll do what we can do, go to the people and provide this public service for them," Ms. Watkins said.

"We're going out in places where people live and asking them to get tested," Roosen said. "It's just a way to get to people that otherwise would not be tested. The key with this whole thing of syphilis is this is a disease we thought would be eliminated probably about eight years ago and guess what? It's still here. It's amazing."

Part of the solution lies in education, Ms. Watkins said.

"I think at this point the most important thing to remember is you have got to be aware of what's going on not only with yourself, but with your partner as well," she said. "So, everyone who's sexually active, you have got to be tested. ... Because when you have an STD (sexually transmitted disease) you could be infected and you could pass that along to someone else."

The state is also working with local physicians, providing educational materials to give to patients, Ms. Watkins said.

"It's not only the testing event. We want to make sure we're getting everyone in the area the education they need so they can understand the signs and symptoms," she said.

The ultimate goal is to meet residents and get them linked into care and treatment, she added.

Test results from the Nov. 6 event are expected to be back within three to four weeks. A date, place and time will be set up to deliver results.

Some of the neighborhood canvass cases may be handled differently.

"If someone does test positive, we do not wait for them to come back and get their results," Ms. Watkins said. "We will get that information and go to them, talk to them face to face about a plan for getting into care.

"We understand that not everyone has health insurance. That's one of the reasons we want to be able to go door-to-door."

Anyone unable to visit the mobile unit on Nov. 6, or not residing in the area that is canvassed, is encouraged to visit the Health Department and get tested for HIV and syphilis.

For more information on the upcoming event, contact Rovonda Freeman at the Health Department, at 731-1288.