A large HIV and syphilis “cluster” in Milwaukee has led to 125 adults, teens and even some babies testing positive for one or both of the sexually transmitted diseases.
Three babies were born with syphilis in 2017 as part of the cluster, which also included about a dozen high school students, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. News of the cluster was confirmed by officials on Wednesday.
The majority of the cluster is men, and 45 percent of those in the cluster tested positive for HIV, the Sentinel reported. Officials say the true size of the cluster is probably higher than 125 because a significant number don’t come forward due to the stigma of both diseases.
The group was identified as a cluster because all were in contact with each other or connected to each other within a 12-month period, public health consultant Melissa Ugland told the Sentinel.
“This is an epidemic people are not talking about enough, and it leads to people taking unnecessary risks,” Ugland said, the Sentinel reported.
The Milwaukee Health Department said in a statement that the 15 to 24 age group has seen an increase in STDs, the Sentinel reported. On March 1, the department launched several advertisements offering free and confidential STD testing at two health centers in the city.
Some in the cluster have been cooperative with health officials, while others did not want to reveal the names of sexual partners that could’ve been affected, the Daily Mail reported.
Syphilis can be diagnosed with a blood test and treated with antibiotics unless it is untreated for many years, when it can cause damage to the brain, nerves, heart, bones and joints, the Daily Mail reported. There is no cure for HIV, but new treatments have led to decades-long survival times for the disease.
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