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Obscure Venereal Disease Reappears in L.A.

December 11, 1987|ALLAN PARACHINI | Times Staff Writer

An obscure venereal disease called chancroid, which has been largely unknown in the United States since 1956, appears to have re-established itself in Los Angeles County.

The re-emergence of chancroid, which is characterized by genital warts, has raised new concern among health officials that it could facilitate the spread of the AIDS virus.

The reappearance of the disease was confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta on the basis of nine outbreaks since 1981, including in Southern California.

In Los Angeles, county health officials, who had indicated earlier this year that they were not persuaded a chancroid outbreak had actually occurred, now say that a new analysis of cases investigated in the first six months of 1987 indicates an increase of more than 1,000% from the same period last year.

Chancroid outbreaks in Los Angeles have been linked to prostitution activity.

Dr. Shirley Fannin, epidemiologist for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said 331 cases of chancroid were reported in the county in the first nine months of 1987. The outbreak began in the last quarter of 1986, she said. In all of 1985, there had been 13 cases of the disease thought to have occurred.

Nationwide, CDC experts say chancroid, which had been virtually unknown in this country since the late 1950s, showed a 65% jump in 1986 from the previous year and is up another 42% so far in 1987.

The new data on chancroid was contained in an article to be published today in the Journal of the American Medical Assn.

Chancroid consists of small, painful pimple-like warts. The infection is easily controlled with conventional antibiotics, and may even resolve itself without treatment--though untreated chancroid can result in serious damage to tissues of the reproductive organs.

Characterized by Warts

Dr. George Schmid, CDC's chancroid expert, said that venereal diseases characterized by warts and sores as a group--and chancroid, in particular--are prompting growing concern over their potential role to facilitate transmission of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS.

In this regard, he said, venereal disease experts are increasingly concerned about all diseases that involve lesions on the genital organs since they provide a break in the skin through which HIV could enter the body.

Chancroid, Schmid said, "does seem, to increase, perhaps several-fold, the likelihood of transmission of the AIDS virus" if a person with genital warts has intimate contact with someone who is HIV-infected.

Schmid and Fannin emphasized that chancroid is comparatively difficult to confirm and that laboratory culture tests sometimes are not available or give unreliable results. For that reason, the precise number of chancroid cases may differ from official figures.

Other locales reporting chancroid outbreaks were Palm Beach County, Orlando and Jacksonville, Fla.; Boston; southeastern Pennsylvania; Dallas, and New York City. New York reported more than 3,500 cases.

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