April 23, 2008

Syphilis Investigation Continues

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Following the upswing of syphilis cases reported in Tompkins County, Gannett and Tompkins County Health Department continue to provide testing and information to the community. According to Sharon Dittman, associate director of community relations for Gannett, nine individuals have tested positive for syphilis thus far.
Of these nine, two are women and seven are men. Four of the individuals who tested positive are members of the Cornell Community. Of these four, one is a latent case, meaning that the disease was contracted long ago and is no longer contagious. That individual was diagnosed after receiving a follow-up test. Of the other three infected Cornell affiliated members, one is a student, one is a faculty member and the other is a staff member. These three individuals are epidemiologically linked to a resident of Tompkins County as well, which means this cluster of four individuals contracted syphilis through some combination of sexual contact with one another. Two of the individuals in this cluster are also co-infected with HIV. All four individuals identify as men who have sex with men (MSM). Each individual who tested positive has received treatment.
Theresa Lyczko, Tompkins County Health Department public information officer, said that no new cases of syphilis have been reported. TCHD issued a press release stating that six of the syphilis cases were reported in Tompkins County in 2007 and then three more cases in the first three months of 2008. The press release also urged people at risk to get tested and reminded individuals that syphilis can be treated and cured with antibiotic medication.
“We’re going to continue to meet and work with Gannett, the [surrounding] colleges, and Planned Parenthood to see how we can get information out about STDs, including syphilis and HIV,” Lyczko said.
So far, none of the people who have been diagnosed with syphilis have identified themselves as members of the Ithaca College or Tompkins County Community College communities.
Although no new cases have been diagnosed, Dittman said that it is still too early to conclude that the disease has not spread.
“It’s going to be a while before we know whether there before we know whether there are new positives, or how many [cases in total] there are,” Dittman said.
Sue Smith, the medical services clerk at Cortland County Health Department said, “I’m not aware of any documented cases [recently].”
The New York State Health Department is required to contact individuals that were named as sexual contacts by those who tested positive. However, they do not reveal the identity of the person who has tested positive. According to Dittman, these individuals are treated with preventative medication, often without having tested positive. Therefore, syphilis cases that would have tested positive in the future will never be known due to this early case identification.
The incubation period of syphilis also stands in the way of truly knowing whether or not the disease is currently contained. According to Dr. Alexandra Hall M.D., Gannett physician, syphilis can take up to three months to register positive on a test after the individual is infected. This means that an individual who is able to pass the disease to another individual may test negative for the time being. The latter is also true of HIV.
Gannett still urges individuals to take proper precaution, to seek further information and to schedule testing if appropriate. According to Dittman, as of yesterday, 280 individuals have been tested or currently have scheduled appointments. It takes two weeks for Gannett, Planned Parenthood, or a private physician to get results of syphilis tests. HIV testing done at Gannett also takes two weeks since Gannett is not equipped to provide “quick tests,” meaning those that can produce results in minutes. However, quick tests for HIV are available at Planned Parenthood and the anonymous testing sites provided TCHD. The outcome of the test will not influence one’s insurance rates and are confidential.