CPH faculty members receive $1.5 million CDC grant to study dramatic rise of syphilis

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July 11, 2017
Abigail Norris Turner, PhD (left), and William Miller, MD, MPH (right)

With syphilis rates rising across the country, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has awarded a $1.589 million grant to The Ohio State University faculty members William Miller, MD, MPH, chair of the College of Public Health’s Division of Epidemiology, and Abigail Norris Turner, PhD, associate professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases in the College of Medicine and CPH associate professor of epidemiology, to help examine the reasons for the increase.

JaNelle Ricks, DrPH, MPA, assistant professor of health behavior and health promotion in the College of Public Health, will help in community engagement and in developing approaches to recruit a diverse cohort of men to participate in the study. Other Ohio State researchers involved with the project include Jose Bazan, DO (Division of Infectious Diseases) and Joe Tien, PhD (Department of Mathematics).

“Since 2011, syphilis has been increasing dramatically in the U.S. and in cities like Columbus. This research will hopefully help us understand why." William Miller, MD, MPH

The goal of the research is to identify behaviors and other characteristics which may increase syphilis risk, specifically by examining the social and sexual networks of men who have sex with men in Columbus.

“Since 2011, syphilis has been increasing dramatically in the U.S. and in cities like Columbus,” Miller said.  “This research will hopefully help us understand why. Syphilis isn’t a trivial infection. We’ve seen an outbreak of ocular syphilis nationwide, a complication that can cause blindness when treatment is delayed.”

The researchers will partner with Columbus Public Health and Equitas Health on the project. These partnerships are essential to the work, according to Miller.

“The collaboration with Columbus Public Health is critical,” Miller said. “It’s also a way for us to further develop an academic-government effort to examine this issue.”

“Equitas Health’s role is also important. They will be a site for community engagement and recruitment of individuals for the study. We will contract with them for those services and staff needed for the research, and the project will build a sustainable research partnership between OSU and Equitas Health,” Miller said.

Columbus was one of three cities, along with Baltimore and Chicago, chosen for the three-year study.

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About The Ohio State University College of Public Health

The Ohio State University College of Public Health is a leader in educating students, creating new knowledge through research, and improving the livelihoods and well-being of people in Ohio and beyond.  The College’s divisions include biostatistics, environmental health sciences, epidemiology, health behavior and health promotion, and health services management and policy.   It is ranked 19th among all colleges of public health in the U.S. by U.S. News & World Report, and also includes the top 10-ranked MHA degree program.  The College provides leadership and expertise for Ohio and the world through its Center for Health Outcomes, Policy and Evaluation Studies (HOPES), Center for Public Health Practice, and the NCI-funded Center of Excellence in Regulatory Tobacco Science (CERTS).