The Health Department is planning an Intensive Community Education Effort (ICEE) to inform neighbors about the risks and symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and offer free, confidential testing and counseling.
The ICEE is scheduled for Saturday, March 8, in some of the city's neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of syphilis infections. A rain date has been scheduled for the following Saturday, March 15.
Four to six teams of counselors, phlebotomists (medical specialists who draw blood for analysis), Spanish-speaking interpreters and other volunteers will go directly into the neighborhoods, visiting 500-600 homes to share information about STD's and offer testing and counseling. This is the first time in recent memory that the Health Department has staged a direct, neighborhood-level effort to get people tested and educated about STD infection.
"Knowledge truly is power," says Mecklenburg County Health Department Syphilis Elimination Coordinator Ann C. White. "Knowing your syphilis or HIV status is the first step in protecting yourself or your partner, and getting the proper treatment and counseling."
North Carolina began receiving money in 1997 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to establish a Syphilis Elimination Project. At that time, half of all syphilis cases were located in only 1 percent of the nation's counties. Five of those counties-including Mecklenburg County-were in North Carolina. Guilford, Forsyth, Wake and Robeson were the other NC counties.
In 2002, there were 68 cases of syphilis in Mecklenburg County. Nationwide, syphilis rates have risen, leading health experts to point to an increase in risky sexual behavior and note the rising rates of HIV infection. Syphilis infection increases the chances of HIV transmission two to five times. In 2002, Mecklenburg County reported 306 cases of HIV Disease (HIV infection and AIDS), an increase from a low of 218 in 2000 and greater than the five-year average (1997-2001) of 240.
Young people and minorities are the hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. HIV-related death has the greatest impact on young and middle-aged adults, particularly racial and ethnic minorities. In 2001, HIV was the fifth leading cause of death for Mecklenburg County residents between the ages of 25 and 44. For all minorities, it was the fourth leading cause of death, yet did not make the top 10 for whites. The majority of new HIV cases in Mecklenburg County in 2002 were reported among African-Americans (81%).
The Health Department offers free, confidential STD counseling and testing every day. Call 704-432-TEST (8378) for more details.