State health officials warn that Michigan is in the midst of a new STD epidemic, and Southeast Michigan is ground zero for syphilis. Jim Kent, an STD epidemiologist with the Michigan Department of Community Health, explained that after nearly a decade of steadily declining rates in sexually transmitted diseases, 2018 statistics indicate recent increases in STD cases, which remain unabated.
Data shows there was an estimated 28 percent spike in reported syphilis cases in Detroit for 2017, and a 30 percent increase last year. “We are alarmed,” he said. “We’ve seen two years in a row of pretty big increases in syphilis and no evidence that it is slowing down. And it makes it even more critical that providers are paying attention and that individuals think about getting tested and treated and do what they can to make sure their partners are getting tested and treated.” Kent added that there has also been an 8 percent increase in chlamydia and a 20 percent increase in gonorrhea cases. “And we expect the 2018 numbers for chlamydia to increase by about 5 percent over 2017 and a big jump in gonorrhea of about 25-30 percent,” Jim further explained. Health officials said the growth in syphilis cases in Detroit worries them most. This is mainly because it has been driven by the promiscuous behavior of young black males (between the ages of 20-29) who often do not think of themselves as gay but have sex with other men nonetheless. In fact, three-quarters of the new cases can be attributed to men who have sex with other men.
Kathy Hollis, a disease intervention specialist at the Wayne County Health Department, said there is also a correlation between population density and the spread of the disease. “Since I’ve worked in this field Detroit has always been the highest, and after Detroit, the rest of Wayne County. Then, Oakland and Macomb County. “The most common cases are among race and sexuality,” she said. “We see a lot among gay men and young African American men.” Majority of these syphilis cases involve male with an even split between black and white males. However, because the population of African Americans in Michigan is significantly lower, the rate among black males is 16 times higher than among white males, Lynn Sutfin, a public information officer for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, explained. While easily treatable with penicillin and early detection, syphilis is a highly-contagious and potentially-deadly disease. Left untreated, its long-term effects can be severe, causing eye, ear and neurological problems. It can result in masses and growths on the head as well. About 30 percent of the people who contracted the disease died from it, STD epidemiologist Kent said. “It can lead to blindness and partial paralysis,” Kent also stated, “And people with syphilis are also at a substantially higher risk of getting HIV and 20 percent higher for gonorrhea and chlamydia.”
The Chronicle made calls to the Detroit Department of Public Health for comment and was referred by its spokesperson, Tamika Nixon, to the Wayne State University STD clinic. The clinic never responded despite repeated phone calls from the Chronicle. Kent expressed that while the exact reason for the regression is unclear, many of the men who contracted the disease met their partners on social media websites. “When our staff contacted people to see if they have been properly tested and to help ID partners, more and more we find that social media plays a part in how people hook up. And more apps are being used for people to meet and have anonymous sexual contact,” he said. “They say, ‘I met my partners through Grinder and don’t have any way to tell them.’ ” regarding STD exposure. He stressed that everyone should indeed be concerned about the epidemic, and epidemic and urges people with multiple sex partners – regardless of sexual orientation – to complete a risk assessment review with a healthcare professional. “Promiscuous sex is contributing to the spike,” Kent said. “The more partners you have, the more likely you will be at risk.”