Phoenix, Ariz. – Arizona health officials have declared a syphilis crisis in the state’s most populous county, identifying men who have unprotected sex with other men at a heightened risk for contracting the disease.
With Gov. Janet Napolitano’s authorization, they have invested $100,000 from the state’s Health Crisis Fund to educate gay men about the disease and encourage them to get tested.
“The gay community, especially in Maricopa County, is where the bulk of the epidemic is now,’’ Will Humble, the state’s assistant director of public health, told the East Valley Tribune on Dec. 26.
Humble said that the health department would take the education initiative to places where men go to find male partners for sex, including gay bars. He added that the bulk of the money would be spent on printing and distributing brochures about the illness and on staff time.
Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano echoed this concern, saying that the number of cases in the county for the first six months of 2007 was 25 times higher than it was in 2000.
Health officials have identified other populations as being at a high risk for contracting the disease. These include sex workers and their customers, and Latina women. Another $100,000 has also been set aside to educate Latina women, pregnant women and their doctors about the disease and treatment.
The number of syphilis cases in neighboring Pima County has also increased from fewer than five in 2005 to over 60 in 2007, with several of those cases occurring in members of the Tohono O’odham Reservation.
Once a disease with a high mortality rate, syphilis is now easily treatable with antibiotics. However, left untreated and undiagnosed syphilis can be fatal.