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Jefferson County officials seek to expand testing for syphilis

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — Jefferson County public health officials who have been battling a syphilis outbreak for more than a year are calling for increased testing for the sexually transmitted disease, which has also erupted in other parts of the state.

The new hotspots emerged following reports of outbreaks in neighboring states, said Thomas Lee, data manager for the STD division of the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Officials say outbreaks have appeared in Mobile, coastal counties and the Huntsville area, and they’re bracing for more.

“My suspicion is we were at the front end of what is going to be a larger-scale outbreak,” said Dr. Elizabeth Turnipseed, director of disease control for the Jefferson County Department of Health.

After several years with low numbers in Jefferson County, an increase appeared in mid-2005, and the number spiked last year. The county recorded 505 new cases of syphilis in 2006, a 76 percent increase over the previous year.

The numbers could be even higher this year because 2007 is 30 cases ahead of this time last year, Turnipseed said.

“We are in the midst of a serious outbreak,” she said. “We are at a point where we need vigilance. It’s so important to test for syphilis because early stages are so treatable, but the later complications can be devastating.”

Syphilis cases that are caught early can be cured with a single, long-acting shot of penicillin. But the disease can cause permanent damage or death if it progresses.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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