Detroit Health Department and MDCH Winning War Against Syphilis In Detroit

Contact: T.J. Bucholz (517) 241-2112
Agency: Community Health

The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) and the City of Detroit Health Department today announced that syphilis rates in Detroit started declining in 2002 - the year after Detroit ranked first in the nation for primary and secondary infectious syphilis cases - and have continued to decline in 2003.

“Over the past two years, we have been encouraged as the city of Detroit has moved closer to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) goal of eliminating syphilis,” said Janet Olszewski, Director of the Michigan Department of Community Health. “We will continue to work together as we strive toward achieving this milestone in disease prevention.”

There was a steady and statistically significant downward trend in reported cases during the 2002 and 2003 calendar years. Given the current decline, it is projected that syphilis in Detroit will decrease approximately 50 percent in 2003.

“The improvement is attributed to more effectively targeting the populations we need to reach and providing treatment and educational intervention to those who need it,” said Dr. Noble Maseru, Public Health Director of Detroit Health Department. “This decline is also the result of collaborations with different agencies, the addition of an MDCH epidemiologist and the outreach efforts of the Syphilis Elimination team.”

MDCH added an epidemiologist in 2001 to support Detroit Health Department Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) surveillance and intervention staff to help pinpoint populations impacted by syphilis and ensure accurate targeting of outreach and education efforts.

“It was necessary to customize outreach efforts to fit our city. We found out early on that we needed to collect data on high-risk behaviors and social networks because targeting only specific city locations wouldn’t capture the population most responsible for spreading the disease,” said MDCH STD epidemiologist Carla Merritt.

The data collected and analyzed by the epidemiologist helped identify populations exhibiting high-risk behaviors such as anonymous or multiple sex partners, hard drug use, or exchanging sex for money or drugs.

Also credited with increasing surveillance and detection are the launching of the Detroit Health Department’s Syphilis Elimination Project in early 2001, the enhancement of educational outreach to Detroit’s emergency and private practice physicians and correctional institutions and the assignment of a physician specializing in sexually transmitted diseases at the Detroit Health Department’s STD Clinic.

Collaboration with correctional institutions will likely be expanded to the 36th District Court and selected precincts of the Detroit Police Department.

“To achieve syphilis elimination in the City of Detroit, continued success will depend upon the maintenance and enhancement of our surveillance, epidemiology, case investigation and community outreach,” said Loretta Davis-Satterla, the Michigan Department of Community Health’s Division of HIV/AIDS and STD Director.

Although the majority of P&S syphilis cases sought testing due to syphilis symptoms, the symptoms of both the primary and secondary stages of the infections are painless, may be internal, and disappear regardless of the absence of treatment.

For more information about syphilis or for referrals for testing or treatment, please call the Detroit Health Department’s STD clinic at (313) 876-4176. Additional statistical information on STDs can be obtained from the MDCH website at