Fresno health officials concerned with shortage of syphilis fighting drugs

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Doctors have been busy fighting the return of syphilis in the Central Valley, but a shortage of the most potent drug used to treat the infection is now raising concerns. (KFSN)

Doctors have been busy fighting the return of syphilis in the Central Valley, but a shortage of the most potent drug used to treat the infection is now raising concerns.

It started out with 10 cases in 2010, but the numbers kept climbing.

And as of late March this year there have been 160 diagnosed cases of syphilis in Fresno County.

"This was the highest number we had," Samer Al-Saghbini with Communicable Disease Control said. "Some of these cases were old."

Making an already tough job harder for doctors is a shortage of Bicillin, a long-lasting and injectable drug most effective at treating syphilis.

The supplier, Pfizer, says a manufacturing issue will delay production until July.

So that means the existing supply needs to be rationed.

"Educate them about proper use of Bicillin, and reserve for mainly high-risk patients," Al-Saghbini explained. "So, in 1 or 2 months, we won't end up without Bicillin at all and end up with pregnant females not getting the right treatment."

The Fresno County Health Department has sent out an alert to clinics, telling them to conserve the available stock for pregnant women who can transmit the infection to the fetus.

Everyone else is being told to use Doxycycline, a pill which needs to be taken for a longer period of time.

"For pregnant females, Bicillin is the only drug studied," Al-Saghbini said. "So, it's the only drug that's been recommended."

Health leaders say syphilis is back because of a rise in IV drug use, and they are currently coming up with ways to reduce new cases.

"It's a cycle it will not be solved by treating the patient, her or himself," Al-Saghbini said. "You have to treat also their sexual contacts."
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