New York City Syphilis Cases More Than Doubled Last Year, Prompting Concerns Over HIV Resurgence
The number of syphilis cases reported to the New York City Department of Health more than doubled from 2000 to 2001 -- with most of the increase coming among men who have sex with men -- prompting fears that unsafe sex practices are on the rise and could contribute to an HIV resurgence, Newsday reports. According to preliminary data released on Tuesday at the National STD Prevention Conference in San Diego, 282 cases of primary or secondary syphilis were recorded in 2001 compared to 117 cases in 2000, continuing a trend that began in 1999. Syphilis rates have dropped across the nation, with an all-time low of 5,979 cases reported in 2000. However, rates have been on the rise in several major cities, including New York, Los Angles, Miami, Seattle and Chicago. New York City health department officials report that 93% of the cases found last year were in men, with 43% of those infections found in men who have sex with men. Susan Blank, assistant commissioner for New York City's STD Control Program, said the rise in cases among MSMs is particularly troubling because it indicates a rise in unprotected sex, and many of the men who reported infections also tested positive for HIV. Syphilis, which usually can be cured with penicillin, facilitates HIV transmission during the primary and secondary stages when sores are open on the skin. Blank noted that the health department "has initiated a number of activities to interrupt syphilis transmission." Callen-Lorde Community Health Center Medical Director Dr. Dawn Harbatkin said the health department is currently recruiting a control group of 100 gay men to "gain insight" on how to prevent syphilis. "Negotiating a sexual encounter is a complicated process. And the numbers show that the prevention messages aren't working. We have to go back to the drawing board and start over," she added (Ramirez, Newsday, 3/6).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.