Bioethics News

Hunting a Killer: Sex, Drugs and the Return of Syphilis

August 24, 2017

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OKLAHOMA CITY — For months, health officials in this socially conservative state capital have been staggered by a fast-spreading outbreak of a disease that, for nearly two decades, was considered all but extinguished.

Syphilis, the deadly sexually transmitted infection that can lead to blindness, paralysis and dementia, is returning here and around the country, another consequence of the heroin and methamphetamine epidemics, as users trade sex for drugs.

To locate possible patients and draw their blood for testing, Oklahoma’s syphilis detectives have been knocking on doors in dilapidated apartment complexes and dingy motels, driving down lonely rural roads and interviewing prison inmates. Syphilis has led them to members of 17 gangs; to drug dealers; to prostitutes, pimps and johns; and to their spouses and lovers, all caught in the disease’s undertow.

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Image: By Nydorf, Seymour, 1914-2001, Artist (NARA record: 8467706) – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17203998

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The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.