Baltimore in spotlight for STD effort on MTV

City's syphilis cases drop significantly

February 08, 2003|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Baltimore, the city with a rock star mayor, is getting its shot on MTV.

But it's not because of Mayor Martin O'Malley's politics or even his Irish music. It's because of the city's Health Department and its efforts against syphilis.

MTV plans to highlight Baltimore for moving from the city known for having the highest rate of syphilis and gonorrhea infection in America to becoming the No. 1 city in the nation in its reduction of syphilis infections.

The city had an 83 percent decrease in syphilis cases during the past five years, according to Dr. Peter Beilenson, the city's health director.

"It's the highest drop of any city ever," Beilenson told city lawmakers in Annapolis yesterday. "Instead of being laughed at, we're trying to eliminate it."

That's quite a change from five years ago, when then-Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke hit the airwaves on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

Schmoke sought to defend his hometown against a week of attacks by the late-night talk show host. Leno opened fire on Baltimore after the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta released a report showing the city led the nation with its syphilis and gonorrhea rates.

The MTV spot will feature a Baltimorean who was treated through city health services, Beilenson said. Beilenson said yesterday that he did not have the date when the program will air, but it will be "real soon."

Baltimore will lead a list of 30 cities in the United States with the highest reduction in syphilis cases, Beilenson said. The city's decline in syphilis cases comes as a CDC report dated November 2002 showed a slight increase in the disease nationwide - the first increase since 1990.

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