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Clatsop County declares a syphilis outbreak

Eight cases last year
By Jack Heffernan

The Daily Astorian

Published on February 16, 2017 8:14AM

Wikimedia Commons
A poster from the Works Progress Administration from around the 1930s-1940s, when penicillin was first being used to treat syphilis.

Wikimedia Commons A poster from the Works Progress Administration from around the 1930s-1940s, when penicillin was first being used to treat syphilis.

Michael McNickle

Michael McNickle

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum subspecies pallidum.


Public health officials have declared a syphilis outbreak in Clatsop County.

Eight cases of syphilis were reported in the county in 2016, compared to three cases in 2015 and two in 2014. There were only two total reported cases in the county from 2007 to 2013.

Although Clatsop County represents less than 1 percent of Oregon’s population, it produced almost 1.4 percent of syphilis cases in the state in 2016. Oregon as a whole produced 2.4 percent of cases in the United States despite holding 1.3 percent of the country’s population.


More men


The risk of contracting the infection has been considerably higher for men, who have accounted for 14 of the 15 cases in the county since 2007. Of the male cases, all but one have resulted from men having sex with other men. Other cases involve people who use methamphetamine, Clatsop County Public Health Director Michael McNickle said.

Officials from the Department of Public Health met Monday with the Oregon Health Authority’s communicable disease team, who agreed that syphilis cases in the county had reached outbreak levels.

Syphilis is an infection spread through contact with sores during vaginal, anal or oral sex, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Infected mothers can also transmit the infection to their unborn babies.

The infection is typically treated with antibiotics. Left untreated, the disease can cause serious health complications.

McNickle noticed that the problem was “out of control” after reviewing the data in late 2016. State officials based their decision to declare an outbreak on the fact that last year’s numbers were outside of the normal parameters, McNickle said. “In order for the funds to be available to address this issue the way it should be, it needed to be declared an outbreak,” he said.


Funds to fight


The county will file paperwork requesting up to $10,000 to counter the outbreak, McNickle said. The funds will go toward supplies and staff time at special clinics.

Once the health department knows how much funding it will receive from the state, it will schedule special clinics in Seaside and Astoria to treat those with the infection as well as their partners, McNickle said. The health department also will reach out to the Clatsop County Jail about screening those who are booked on methamphetamine charges.

But officials are hoping residents can avoid these steps.

“Prevention is the best cure from a public health perspective, so please use protection when engaging in sexual activities” McNickle said.



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