Girding for Spread of New Clap

Council’s Quinn and Miller press health department to divulge gay chlamydia strategy

In a January 13 letter, City Council Speaker Gifford Miller and Councilwoman Christine Quinn, both Manhattan Democrats, pressed the city health department to outline any steps that officials had taken to respond to lymphogranuloma venereum (LGV), a sexually transmitted disease that has afflicted gay men in the Netherlands and San Francisco.

“We would like to know what steps the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is taking with respect to LGV,” the two councilmembers wrote.

“Specifically, we would like to know what notices, if any, have been given to the public, doctors and health care facilities; what discussions, if any, have begun with LGBT community based organizations; what level of information exchange and strategy sharing, if any, has occurred with public health officials in San Francisco and Europe; and what planning and other proactive steps, if any, have occurred to address LGV if it does, in fact, hit New York city.”

LGV is a strain of chlamydia, a common, sexually transmitted disease that can infect the groin and colon. Symptoms can include swollen lymph glands and groin ulcers. A colon infection can lead to blood or pus in the feces and constipation. The bug can be easily treated, if diagnosed in time, with a three-week course of antibiotics.

Last fall, health authorities in the Netherlands reported that they had seen 92 cases among gay men during the 17 months prior to September 2004.

The San Francisco health department reported four cases among gay men last summer. None of the four men had visited the Netherlands, leading the San Francisco health department to suspect that there may be other cases in that city.

“The idea is to knock it out quickly,” Dr. Sam Mitchell, a San Francisco health department epidemiologist, told the San Francisco Chronicle in December. “If it circulates widely, it could be quite challenging.”

In October, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued an alert about LGV to state and local health departments. The agency noted that “recent reports from Belgium, France, and Sweden confirm that LGV is occurring elsewhere in Europe” and advised health officials to be “vigilant for LGV.”

As of January 18, the health department had not responded to the letter, but the department’s LGV efforts began roughly two months ago, according to Sid Dinsay, a health department spokesperson.

“While there are no confirmed cases of lymphogranuloma venereum in the city to date, the health department is part of a nationwide effort coordinated by the CDC to identify potential cases,” Dinsay said in a press statement. “Locally, the department is also actively working with medical providers, including the Callen-Lorde Community Health Center, to ensure that even suspect cases of LGV are identified, and that patients and their partners receive treatment.”

In an e-mail message, Jay Laudato, Callen-Lorde’s executive director, wrote that Dr. Dawn Harbatkin, the agency’s medical director, had been trained by the health department on LGV “identification and treatment” and that the health department “has offered to process, at no charge, specimens of suspected cases.”

Callen-Lorde has submitted samples from three suspected LGV cases to the health department for testing, but has not yet received “a definitive diagnosis on these specimens.”

The councilmembers’ letter, which was given to Gay City News by Miller’s office, is as much about politics as it is about the health of gay men.

Miller, who is seeking his party’s mayoral nomination, has aggressively countered Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Republican.

During his administration, the City Council has overridden Bloomberg’s vetoes 26 times, passing a wide array of legislative measures into law. Previously, the City Council was seen as a largely ineffective body.

Last year, the City Council, in overrides, made into law two measures of importance to the gay community, the Equal Benefits Bill, legislation that requires contractors doing $100,000 or more worth of business with the city to offer the same benefits to the domestic partners of their employees that are offered to employee’s spouses, and the Dignity for All Students Act, an anti-bullying bill that includes protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, among a number of categories.

Half of the 26 overrides were in 2004 and two this January, Newsday reported. Between 1994 and 2001, when Peter Vallone, Sr. was speaker, the Council overrode just three vetoes made by former Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, according to Newsday.

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