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Georgia Ranks High in Deadly Strain of Syphilis

Georgia ranks high in nation with deadly STD

Rome, GA: Northwest Georgia Public Health has kicked off a
multi-county, social-marketing campaign designed to increase syphilis
awareness, increase testing for syphilis in at-risk individuals and
reduce syphilis rates. Reported rates of infectious syphilis have
declined in the United States, yet syphilis remains a major health
concern for the southern United States. Nearly 50% of cases nationwide
occur in the South. In 2005, Georgia ranked number one in reported
cases of syphilis in the nation, and it is anticipated Georgia will
hold the number three spot when the 2006 reported syphilis case count is

Although primarily a problem in metropolitan areas, especially Atlanta,
syphilis is also seen in rural communities. The Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention’s Syphilis Elimination Effort is a national
initiative that brings together health care providers, policy makers,
community leaders and state and local public health agencies in an
effort to reduce syphilis rates nationwide. By working together to get
at-risk people tested, health officials have a unique opportunity to
control this devastating disease, reduce the transmission of HIV and
protect unborn infants and newborns.

Syphilis, a sexually transmitted disease (STD), can cause
life-threatening health problems if untreated. Syphilis is especially
dangerous during pregnancy when infection can cause birth defects and
stillbirth. It has often been called “the great imitator” because
so many of the signs of syphilis infection are similar to other health
conditions. Syphilis is most common in persons 20 to 39 years of age,
with the highest rates in women 20 to 24 years of age and in men 35 to
39 years of age. Heterosexual minority populations, particularly
African Americans, are most affected by syphilis. However, anyone can
get syphilis, and since a previous infection does not make a person
immune to syphilis, infection can happen again and again. Unprotected
sexual activity with partners who have not been tested for STDs
increases risk for syphilis and other STDs such as HIV, gonorrhea and

Because syphilis rates in the South were actually decreasing before
returning with an upsurge in recent years, the theme of the
social-marketing campaign is “Syphilis Is Back — If You’re At
Risk, Get Tested.” Anyone is at risk for syphilis during sexual
contact with an infected person or a person whose syphilis status is not
known. The test for syphilis involves the collection and testing of a
small sample of blood. “Syphilis is easy to cure in its early
stages,” said Northwest Georgia Public Health epidemiologist, Debra
Abercrombie, who developed the campaign. “Effective treatment is
available, and it’s important that people be screened for syphilis and
other STDs if their sexual behaviors put them at risk,” Abercrombie
explained. Accordingly, the primary message of the campaign urges “if
you’re at risk, get tested.”

Campaign media, which include outdoor advertising, posters, bumper
stickers, and banners, direct people to a page at Northwest Georgia
Public Health’s web site,, where
extensive information about syphilis, including testing locations, is
available. County-specific web sites; e.g.,, have been established fo
r Bartow,
Chattooga, Floyd and Paulding counties. Public health communicable
disease specialists work with persons infected with syphilis to inform
sex partners of their risk for syphilis and to provide testing and
treatment as needed. Low-cost syphilis testing is available at all
county health departments. Additionally, county health departments
provide no-cost treatment to anyone testing positive for syphilis and
no-cost testing and necessary treatment for referred partners of
individuals with a positive test for syphilis.

The web site contains information on:
● How Did I Get Syphilis?
● What If I Have Syphilis?
● What Does Syphilis Look Like?
● Why Get Tested?
● How Do I Tell My Partner?
● HIV and Syphilis
● Frequently Asked Questions
● Testing Sites
● How Do I Get information On Other STDs?

For information on syphilis and other sexually transmitted diseases
(STDs), visit the Georgia Division of Public Health Sexually Transmitted
Diseases Program website at
For information on Georgia Public Health’s Syphilis Elimination
Program, visit
STD information is also available online from the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention at

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  • Title: Georgia Ranks High in Deadly Strain of Syphilis
  • Written on: November 16th, 2007
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