State: Group sex may have sparked teen syphilis outbreak

BY SUSAN SIMPSON Published: March 26, 2009

/> Darrin Akins, a microbiology and immunology professor at the University of Oklahoma, said the large number of cases in one month indicate that they are related and may even have started with one infected person.

"Ten cases in one area? That’s got to be something like group sex or trading drugs for sex,” he said.

Akins said because the initial lesions are painless, youths may ignore or not notice the signs and continue spreading it. People also can be reinfected after treatment.

Other symptoms are rashes that appear as rough, red, or reddish brown spots on the palms of hands and bottoms of the feet, swollen lymph glands, sore throat and fatigue.

New cases prompt call for education
Greg Heartsill, a disease intervention specialist with the Oklahoma City-County Health Department, said he hasn’t heard of teen group sex parties but has seen more teens seeking treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

One teen couple recently learned they had both syphilis and HIV. Other teens diagnosed with diseases like gonorrhea or chlamydia never return for treatment. Heartsill said teens may not realize the dangers of unprotected sex.

"They don’t always understand the whole repercussions of having fun,” Heartsill said.

Anita Fream, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Central Oklahoma, said the outbreak shows the need for comprehensive sex education in schools.

"Teenagers need to know how to protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy,” she said. "They need the right information to make responsible decisions.”