06/11/10 — Syphilis testing clinics planned in June

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Syphilis testing clinics planned in June

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on June 11, 2010 1:46 PM

As syphilis cases continue to climb in Wayne County, the Health Department is broadening its efforts -- starting with a mass testing mid-month and canvassing neighborhoods to raise awareness of the epidemic situation.

"Unfortunately, we've seen over 60 cases (of syphilis) during the past year, compared to four cases in 2004 and four in 2005," said James Roosen, health director.

"Since the first of the year, we have had 19 new cases of syphilis," added Josa Raynor-Vaughn, communicable diseases program manager.

The disease shows no partiality to any particular demographic, the officials said -- age, race or gender, it doesn't matter.

"It's not any certain type of group -- homosexual, heterosexual, young, older -- and it's not just syphilis. Everything is going up," says Annette Von Wald, an HIV/STD nurse who works in the STD clinic.

One reason might be that the disease is not always symptomatic, so patients can more easily ignore any warning signs, or be oblivious to them, she said.

Another misperception is that testing for syphilis and sexually transmitted disease is included in any routine tests or bloodwork done in a doctor's office.

That's not the case, she said.

"They don't realize there's trillions of things they test for and unless (patients) ask for it, it's not," she said.

In her role as minority health coordinator and health educator, Rovonda Freeman deals with the subject often in her discussions with teens. She said her message to them can be broken down into the simplest of terms.

"'If you're having sex, you're at risk,'" she said she tells them. "Our young people really need to hear it. They don't understand it, especially boys."

Girls and women typically visit physicians more frequently, she said, so getting into the habit of being checked is already ingrained.

Still, she advised, parents would be wise to take the lead in discussing sexually transmitted diseases with their children.

At the Health Depart-ment, where more than 400 people are tested each month, it's been a challenge to get the word out about STD concerns.

While a growing number of patients seem to be talking about the syphilis epidemic, Ms. Von Wald said there is some concern over the younger females -- who seemingly don't, or won't, tell their partners of the diagnosis, which means the cycle continues and the rates remain on the rise.

Getting the message into the community will require taking a different approach, officials said.

"That's what public health needs to do statewide," Roosen said. "Most of the time we wait for people to come in and get tested, when we should be going out into the community."

On June 18, a testing station will be set up in the Health Department parking lot.

The goal, Roosen said, is to reach those who may not know their syphilis or HIV status.

"We plan on giving people a $5 gift certificate if they agree to be tested," he said. "Right now we're working on the plan to promote the testing to Wayne County residents and to involve agencies that can assist us with mass testing."

WATCH, or Wayne Action Teams for Community Health, which already has a mobile van that traverses the county to see patients with little or no insurance, has recently taken on the added responsibility of testing for syphilis for the Health Department. So far, Ms. Raynor-Vaughn said, health officials have done 25 tests.

For the June 18 mass testing, which will be held from 4 to 8 p.m., the state branch of communicable diseases will assist with the quick blood test, providing a testing van for the event.

No appointment is necessary, and everything is free and confidential.

"We want people from all over the community to come," Mrs. Raynor-Vaughn said. "We're going to be sending out a team of people in all directions on that day -- going out asking people to come over and get tested.

"We're going to put fliers in the neighborhoods to let them know we're going to be testing. If they have symptoms, all the more reason to come."