Syphilis Outbreak Cause For Concern

Thursday, March 26th 2009, 5:19 pm
By: News On 6

By Chris Wright, The News On 6

TULSA, OK -- The Oklahoma Department of Health is alarmed about a syphilis outbreak among teenagers.  It says ten teens in central Oklahoma have already been infected with the sexually transmitted disease.

At Planned Parenthood, doctors say they regularly treat patients with syphilis, but an outbreak among teenagers is rare.

"There are some dire consequences, and if we pay a little attention to it either as parents or physicians or educators in school, we hopefully can get a handle on this and prevent it from happening again," said Dr. Mark Martens with Planned Parenthood.

What's happening, according to the Oklahoma Department of Health, is a spike in syphilis cases among teens.  In 2008, there were 249 reported cases statewide, 15 of which were teens.  This year, 10 teenagers in central Oklahoma have already contracted the disease.  Furthermore, some told health officials they got the STD at group sex parties.

Dr. Martens says those types of parties are also happening in the Tulsa-area.

"Yes, they are occurring here. Luckily what we haven't had is that influx of one person with syphilis that gets in the middle of this and it again spreads like wildfire," said Dr. Mark Martens with Planned Parenthood.

To prevent the spread, Jenks High School is stressing education.

"I feel like correct information gives them the power to make wise choices so they aren't at risk for something as deadly as syphilis and other STDs," said Jenks Nursing Coordinator Linda Parkhurst.

Linda Parkhurst says just because the outbreak happened in central Oklahoma, that does not mean Tulsa County is immune. She speaks to classes about the dangers of STDs, and while unfortunate, the syphilis cases provide her with what she calls a teachable moment.

"One of the big things is to make them know that they're not invincible. If they put themselves at risk, they can become affected and infected," said Jenks Nursing Coordinator Linda Parkhurst.

Health officials say if detected, syphilis can be effectively treated with antibiotics.  But, if untreated, it can damage the heart, brain, eyes and bones.  And in some cases, it can be fatal.