City will get money to treat syphilis $710,000 more in state, local, federal funds to go into control effort; Cases double at clinics; Health officials to hire workers to deal with Baltimore epidemic


The syphilis epidemic in Baltimore is prompting city, state and federal health officials to pump nearly three-quarters of a million dollars into efforts to control the problem.

Dr. Peter Beilenson, city Health Department director, said yesterday he will use the money to hire more physicians, clinicians and syphilis-case trackers to control the disease that is so rampant here that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta recently ranked Baltimore No. 1 in the country for reported syphilis cases.

Most of the money is a one-time grant that will provide emergency aid for this year. City health officials speculate that reported syphilis cases will continue to rise this year before a drop-off.

Beilenson said part of the $710,000 will be used to hire two more syphilis-case trackers -- professionals who document the sex partners of infected people. Fourteen people now work as trackers.

He said the money also will increase the number of physicians, nurses and assistants in the city's two clinics by about nine, nearly doubling the number the city had a year ago.

"We won't be turning people away," Beilenson said. "We are seeing close to double the patients that we have in the past."

The clinics see about 80 patients daily, compared with 45 in the past, he said.

The Board of Estimates unanimously voted yesterday to give the Health Department $150,000 to battle syphilis. Beilenson said that another $150,000 is tentatively scheduled to be provided by the city in six months.

Federal and state health officials are giving the city about $410,000, Beilenson said. He said that last year he redirected $50,000 from other Health Department areas to combat syphilis.

The city spends about $2.1 million annually to control sexually transmitted diseases.

In addition to the new money, the state is to provide more money for increased syphilis testing and treatment for jail inmates.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke said yesterday he met with Gov. Parris N. Glendening on Tuesday about Baltimore's syphilis epidemic.

The mayor said the governor would give the city more money if needed.

City health officials blame Baltimore's problems on the sex-for-drugs trade.

If caught early, syphilis can be treated with penicillin and cured. But people can catch syphilis again.

If left untreated, syphilis can damage vital organs, such as the heart and brain.

The disease also can be passed from pregnant women to their TTC babies, who are at risk of blindness and birth defects. Some babies are stillborn.

Unlike most cities around the country, which are reporting fewer cases of syphilis, Baltimore in 1996 more than tripled its rate of reported cases in 1990, the recently released statistics show.

The government's statistics show that Baltimore has nearly twice the rate of reported syphilis cases as Memphis, Tenn., the No. 2 city.

For every 100,000 people in Baltimore, 80 cases of syphilis were reported in 1996. Memphis' rate was 46 cases per 100,000.

The CDC rankings were based on samplings in 64 U.S. cities with populations of more than 200,000.

The statistics show that overall most of those cities have reported dramatic declines in syphilis cases since 1990.

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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