Miss. syphilis cases up this year

Published 8:00 pm Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A decline in the number of nurses and disease investigators in recent years has contributed to an increase in syphilis cases — from 112 to 258 — and those of other sexually transmissible diseases, says interim state health officer, Dr. Ed Thompson.

This year, gonorrhea has increased from 4,029 cases to 4,809 through July; chlamydia has gone from 10,787 to 12,802.

“In far too many cases, we’re not intervening, or we’re not intervening as soon as we should. We have to find cases quickly and render them noncontagious,” Thompson said Monday in a meeting with the editorial board of The Clarion-Ledger.

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Thompson and the state Board of Health want $16 million from the Legislature to increase the number of nurses and other field personnel.

Thompson and Dr. Luke Lampton of Magnolia, chairman of the Board of Health, said that since 2003, the number of public health nurses has declined from 354 to 308; the number of disease investigators has dropped from 50 to 34.

These personnel are critical in battling diseases on the front lines, Thompson said, and hiring more personnel “is a long-term suture job on a wound.”

On the rise in whooping cough, Thompson said the department is receiving help from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Although vaccines are given for whooping cough, the vaccine only aids 85 percent to 90 percent of the population, Thompson said, and infants who have yet to receive the vaccine also are vulnerable.

Health Department officials also want $25 million for a new laboratory.

Lawmakers passed a bill in 2006 but the project was shelved last year when questions were raised about whether the lab would generate enough fees to be self-sustaining.

State Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, chairman of the Senate Public Health Committee, said the department needs a new lab, not only to deal with health threats, but also bioterrorism.

On Sept. 8, a new restaurant inspection system will be unveiled that Lampton said should make it easier to determine how safe restaurants are to the public.

Mississippians will see a large green “A” if a restaurant gets no critical violations. They’ll see a large green “B” if a restaurant gets critical violations but can correct them before the inspector leaves. They’ll see a large orange “C” if critical violations can’t be corrected until later, Lampton said.

Thompson said restaurants that can’t correct those critical violations will be closed.

Lampton said the board is continuing its search for a permanent state health officer. He said one could be hired by December.

“We do need to find someone who shares the vision that the board does about improving public health in Mississippi,” Lampton said.

Thompson — who also is chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at the University of Mississippi Medical Center — promised to stick around that long, maybe longer: “I’m willing to keep it between the ditches while they do that.”