State health officials are spending $100,000 largely to tell gay men to get tested and, if necessary, treated for syphilis.
The cash from the state’s Health Crisis Fund, authorized by Gov. Janet Napolitano, comes after what she said is an increase in cases of the sexually transmitted disease. In particular, the governor said the number of cases in Maricopa County for the first six months of 2007 is 25 times higher than it was seven years earlier.
“The gay community, especially in Maricopa County, is where the bulk of the epidemic is now,’’ said Wil Humble, the state’s assistant director of public health.
But there are problems elsewhere.
State health officials say cases in Pima County have gone from fewer than five in 2005 to more than 60 this year, with a good number of those on the Tohono O’odham Reservation. And here, too, the agency said the large part of the increase is in what they call them MSM population: men having sex with men.
That, however, isn’t the only problem. Humble said the rate of syphilis also is rising among prostitutes and their customers.
The money is going to be spent largely on what Humble called “retail education’’ about the disease, “trying to get to those locations, the focus areas, where the infection is being spread.’’
What that means, he explained, are places where gay men meet or find partners. And many of those places are bars.
“You can drive down the street,’’ Humble said. “If you see a rainbow on them, that’s them.’’
He said most of the money will be spent on brochures as well as staff time in an effort to get men to go in for the test.
The treatment involves antibiotics to wipe out the infection which.
Humble said the treatment is simple, but syphilis can lead to death if left untreated.
“Unless they know they’re infected, they don’t go in and get treatment,’’ Humble said. “That means spoon feeding them the locations for clinics where they could get screened and treated.’’
This isn’t the first time the governor has tapped the Health Crisis Fund, financed through tobacco taxes, for a targeted campaign to fight syphilis. Earlier this year Napolitano took another $100,000 from the fund to help educate pregnant women and their doctors about the disease and the need for testing.
There, much of the money was spent for commercials on Spanish-language radio stations — as 80 percent of cases of congenital syphilis are among Hispanic women.
While state law requires testing at a first prenatal examination, doctors and patients were not considering the possibility of subsequent infection. Alfonso Urquidi, who heads the state’s program on sexually transmitted diseases, said the problem has not been the women who remain faithful but their mates who have multiple partners.
Humble said the program has been a success, with no new cases of children born with syphilis since it started.