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Hundreds of Syphilis Patients in L.A. Got the Wrong Drug

The Gay & Lesbian Center urges about 300 people treated for the disease since 1999 to return for assessment and possible treatment.

March 20, 2004|Lisa Richardson | Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center alerted county health officials Friday that it has administered the wrong type of penicillin to about 300 people seeking treatment for syphilis over the past five years.

Penicillin therapy is the mainstay of treatment for syphilis, according to county health officials, but different formulas exist. Clients at the Gay & Lesbian Center were treated with Bicillin C-R instead of Bicillin L-A, the trade name for benzathine penicillin G.

Bicillin C-R contains only half the dose of benzathine penicillin G that is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for treatment of syphilis.

"This drug looks identical and has the same name, with the exception of the two letters, so in some ways one can understand how this mistake can be made," said Darrel Cummings, chief operating officer of the Gay & Lesbian Center. "After we discovered the problem, we began identifying the pool of people who might be affected, and we're now trying to contact those folks personally."

The center is asking anyone who was treated there for syphilis from 1999 to this month to make an appointment for another assessment and further treatment, if necessary.

It is unclear whether clients treated with the lower dosage still have syphilis. Carriers do not always have apparent symptoms, Cummings said. But clients whose sores remained visible may have sought further treatment (the disease is passed between sex partners only when sores are visible).

The county already has surveyed its 13 syphilis treatment sites and has found no similar errors, said Dr. Peter Kerndt, director of the Sexually Transmitted Disease Program for the L.A. County Department of Health.

"We know in fact it hasn't occurred in any of our public settings," Kerndt said.

About 760 cases of syphilis were diagnosed in L.A. County last year, and 730 were diagnosed in 2003, Kerndt said. About 65% of those cases occurred in gay men.

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