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25 August 2017, 15:24
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Syphilis outbreaks in the US

Syphilis outbreaks in the US - picture 1

The Oklahoma City, socially conservative state capital, have been staggered by a fast-spreading outbreak of syphilis. Last two decades the disease was considered extinguished, so it took months for health investigators to recognise epidemic.

Moreover, the juvenile detention centre reported three cases of syphilis among a boy and two girls, the youngest, 14. There were no such cases for more than seven years of testing for it.

Oklahoma City health officials say that the way to shut down an outbreak is to locate all the sex partners of people who were diagnosed syphilis and persuade them to get tested, treated and disclose to their sex partners.

The method chosen was to locate possible patients and draw their blood for testing. Health detectives have been knocking on doors in apartment complexes, motels, driving down lonely rural roads and interviewing prison inmates.

As New York Times says, after several months, dispirited Oklahoma investigators acknowledged that old-school tactics for locating contacts, like knocking on doors and cold-calling, were not very effective. Many people they sought are transient and use disposable phones.

“But they want to stay connected to their friends and their drugs,” said Ms King, a supervising investigator. “So they’re all on Facebook. That’s where we’re finding them.” Through Facebook, investigators memorised faces and gang tattoos and followed the flare-ups and flameouts of relationships. Next, they designed a diagram of the outbreak, coded with symbols: diamond for a drug user, blue heart for pregnant and strawberry for a sex worker.

They have come to understand why more than half of this outbreak’s victims are women: “The males give up the women’s names,” Ms King said. “But the women are too loyal or afraid to give up the males.”