AIDS Healthcare Foundation Urges Los Angeles County Health Officials To Do More To Raise Awareness of Syphilis Outbreak
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation on Dec. 26 called on Los Angeles County health officials to do more to address a 62% increase last year in syphilis cases among men who have sex with men, many of whom are HIV-positive, Reuters reports (Reuters, 12/27). "You can't find condoms in most of West Hollywood's bars, and the county is sending out its mobile STD van only two days this month," AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein said, adding, "You can't stop an outbreak of this kind without prevention, testing and treatment. On all those counts our public health authorities are failing" (AIDS Healthcare Foundation release, 12/26). A County of Los Angeles Department of Health Services report released on Dec. 15 said that of the 507 new syphilis cases that were reported in the first 11 months of 2002, 62% were among men who have sex with men, and six out of 10 of those cases were among HIV-positive men. Dr. Paul DenOuden, a doctor with AHF, said, "There could be two reasons for so many cases being reported primarily among the HIV-infected. Either they are being exposed more often to syphilis, or routine syphilis screening at AIDS clinics simply catches a bigger percentage within this population." Although syphilis is easily curable with antibiotics, if left untreated it can cause permanent brain and heart damage as well as serious complications for HIV-positive people. Weinstein called for more testing centers and outreach programs, saying that Los Angeles County officials should be "ringing an alarm bell" (Reuters, 12/27). According to the CDC, the Los Angeles outbreak is part of an overall increase in syphilis rates throughout California. Karen Mall, director of prevention for AHF, attributed the rise partly to the fact that "gay men may be tuning out after having heard safe sex messages for years," according to the Associated Press. Weinstein added, "Since AIDS has become treatable and people are not dying in great numbers we've gotten complacent and safer sex is taking a back-seat." He also criticized the gay communities in the area for not promoting stronger prevention messages. "In places like West Hollywood, where alcohol and sex are primary industries, those communities have a responsibility to promote safer sex and make condoms available," Weinstein said. Only 57% of 14 gay bars in the West Hollywood area use a city-sponsored free condom distribution program, the Associated Press reports (Associated Press, 12/27).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.