Outbreak of Syphilis Stuns Oklahoma Health Officials

For months now, health officials in Oklahoma City have been stunned by a fast-spreading outbreak of syphilis which, for almost two decades, was considered to be dead. Oklahoma has detectives specifically dedicated to finding the cause and tracking down everyone affected.

Astonishing Syphilis Outbreak

Syphilis is a deadly sexually transmitted infection that can lead to blindness, paralysis, and dementia, is back. Not only in Oklahoma, but around the whole country; a consequence of the heroin and methamphetamine crises, as users trade sex for drugs.

Detectives on the Case

The police working on this have been scouring apartment complexes, motels, and prisons to find possible patients for blood testing. By tracing the STD, they’ve been led to drug dealers, members of 17 gangs, prostitutes, pimps, and spouses and lovers connected to all of them. It took months for the investigators to realize what they had on their hands was a syphilis outbreak.

Most Affected People

Last fall, the juvenile detention center reported three cases; the center had never had a syphilis case in seven years of testing for it. Then, in February, a prison inmate tested positive; he listed 24 sex partners — some his own, others the “pass-around girls” for gangs. After this interview, officials declared an outbreak. For the most part, syphilis still mostly afflicts gay and bisexual men who are African-American or Hispanic, although rates are rising among white women and their infants.

Containment and Prevention

Most doctors haven’t seen a case since the late 90s so it is often misdiagnosed. The lab testing process is antiquated and, although syphilis can be cured with an injection, there is a shortage of the antibiotic, made only by Pfizer, for over a year now.

Funding for clinics dedicated to preventing STDs is another big issue. five years ago, half of state programs that addressed them had funding decreased and has stayed so. Now, the Trump administration has proposed an additional 17 percent cut to the federal prevention budget. Without the budget for treatment and prevention, the outbreak will likely continue to spread.

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