Rising Syphilis Rates in Two Florida Counties Signal Return To High-Risk Sexual Behavior
Syphilis rates in Broward and Miami-Dade counties in Florida are reaching "epidemic" proportions, which health officials say could indicate an increase in high-risk behavior that can lead to HIV/AIDS, the Miami Herald reports (Rhor, Miami Herald, 3/23). In Broward County, reported cases syphilis increased 88% from 2001 to 2002, with about 11 new cases reported each month, compared to 1998 when 13 cases were reported for the entire year, the Associated Press reports. In January and February, the number of Broward's syphilis cases was 43% higher than during the same period in 2002 (Associated Press, 3/23). In Miami-Dade County, the incidence of syphilis rose 19% from 2001 to 2002, and the county has 30% more cases in the first two months of this year than during the same period last year, the Herald reports. In addition, in November 2002, the CDC listed Miami and Fort Lauderdale among the eight U.S. cities with the highest numbers of new syphilis cases. A CDC "rapid response team" will discuss prevention and intervention methods with Miami-Dade officials tomorrow and with Broward officials on Wednesday, the Herald reports. Health officials in Miami-Dade said they have "stepp[ed] up" local education and outreach efforts in response to the increasing number of cases.
The Herald reports that the increasing number of infections, seen primarily among men who have sex with men, may be attributed to a "perception that HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence but something that can be controlled by powerful new drugs." Tom Burns, program manager of the Miami-Dade County Health Department's STD program, said, "There seems to be 'prevention message burnout.' Maybe we don't have the right messages out there." Dr. James Cresanta, disease prevention specialist for the Broward County Health Department, said, "It looks like it's getting worse. It's not something that went away" (Miami Herald, 3/23). Jay McLaughlin, health coordinator at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of South Florida, said, "People want to go back to the early days, when sex was free and everyone was having a great time. ... But we want people to realize what can happen" (Associated Press, 3/23).