Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
By Dawn Wolfe Gutterman
DETROIT – What do Michigan’s Department of Health and the city of Detroit’s ball culture have in common? Both are working to stop a sudden rise in cases of syphilis infection among men who have sex with men in Detroit.
According to Dawn Jackson, the syphilis elimination coordinator for the state-run Detroit STD Surveillance and Intervention Program, during the three weeks from July 1-25 alone, six new cases of syphilis among men who have sex with men were diagnosed. So far during 2005, eleven new cases of syphilis have been diagnosed among men who have sex with men – a forty-one percent increase over the same time period in 2004.
Syphilis alone is a concern, said Jackson, but of even greater concern is that contracting syphilis makes it easier to also become infected with HIV.
“Of the total syphilis cases, eight of those eleven are also HIV positive, so that’s significant,” she said.
Jackson said that her agency had already been partnering with area community based organizations to increase awareness of the threat of syphilis infection.
“Is this [increase in diagnosed cases] because of the education – so people are getting checked out? Or will we see more happening in August? We don’t know that,” she said.
Jackson said that her agency has been working with the House of Infinity, an intentional family founded by Jonathan Davis, to do outreach and testing at Detroit-area bars. So far, outreach and testing are occurring at the Woodward Bar and Pandora’s Box, and outreach efforts are occurring at the Palladium Club and Off Broadway East. All of the bars are in Detroit.
“We have screened a total of 119 at both locations, and we’ve identified one new case of syphilis,” Jackson said.
Davis said he became involved in prevention awareness after hearing “horror stories” while working as a hairdresser in the ball community. According to Davis, House of Infinity was the first prevention-focused house in Detroit, but others are starting to show interest.
As for his work with Jackson’s agency, Davis said, “We’ve taken a non-traditional approach to raising awareness of the testing by meeting the clients where they’re at.”
Davis said of the syphilis outbreak, “It’s big because it’s within a specific target population. It’s basically within the LGBT community.”
“To me, that’s a big issue because apparently the prevention and awareness messages are falling on deaf ears, or people feel it can’t happen to them – or the majority of people are looking for love and have low self-esteem, so that even knowing the risks they compromise themselves just to get some kind of self-gratification,” he added.
Jackson stressed the importance of confronting the threat now, in its early stages.
“Even though the numbers are low, when we see an increase we need to have an outbreak response plan, because [syphilis is] a treatable and curable infection,” she said.