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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 16, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 11
Mysterious STI epidemic hits Milwaukee, newspaper reveals Public heath officials silent
Section One
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Mysterious STI epidemic hits Milwaukee, newspaper reveals Public heath officials silent

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

At least 125 people in Milwaukee - including high school students - have been infected with HIV, syphilis, or both in the past year, according to a March 13 story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Three local babies were also born with syphilis last year.

According to the newspaper, there has been no announcement to the general public from the Milwaukee Health Department, although public health officials did notify the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), and public health sources did cooperate with the newspaper in preparing the story.

'This is an epidemic people are not talking about enough, and it leads to people taking unnecessary risks,' said Melissa Ugland, a public health consultant who works with a number of Milwaukee nonprofits that focus on public health.

Fewer than 10% of the 125 people who tested positive for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are MPS students, but health care experts anticipate that the numbers could increase as more people come forward.

This cluster of STIs was identified because the individuals in it could all be connected, and were in contact with each other during an identifiable 12-month period, Ugland said.

Most of those in the group are men and 45% were HIV positive, Ugland and other health care advocates said.

In a statement, MPS said the Health Department informed the district that the entire city is experiencing an increase in sexually transmitted infections in young people ages 15 to 24.

'Because schools have a significant number of students in the 15-18 age group, we are working with the Milwaukee Health Department, in a collaborative and preventive effort, to share information with young people in middle schools and high schools to keep them healthy and to protect their health,' the statement said.

Public health advocates are labeling the cluster a 'sentinel event' because of the number of young people becoming HIV positive and the fact that babies were born with syphilis.

'It's a really big deal,' Ugland said.

Health officials first became aware of a growing problem with sexually transmitted infections in mid-December, 2017, after several people reported having HIV or syphilis symptoms, sources said.

According to the newspaper report, Bevan Baker, the city's former health commissioner, met with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to brief him about the cluster of STIs in December, 2017, and again in early January, 2018, but the city did not make an effort to publicize the data or urge people to get tested and take safer sex precautions.

MPS, however, immediately brought health care professionals in to talk with students. Within 24 hours of learning about the cluster, Ugland said, MPS Superintendent Darienne Driver was on the phone to get people in to talk with students.

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