Number of Syphilis Cases Among New Jersey Men Triples; Could Signal More Risky Behavior Leading to More HIV Cases
The number of New Jersey men with syphilis has more than tripled over the past three years, reflecting a national trend that public health experts say is "deeply troubling," as the rise in numbers could be due to increased risky behavior that could lead to more HIV cases, the Bergen Record reports. Syphilis can cause open sores in its early stages, which facilitates HIV transmission, and if left untreated by antibiotics, syphilis can cause paralysis, dementia and blindness in its later stages. The number of white New Jersey men diagnosed with syphilis has risen from less than five in 1999 to 45 in 2002. New Jersey Health Department officials said that 121 men -- mainly men who have sex with men -- and 48 women were diagnosed with syphilis in 2002. The number of syphilis cases decreased throughout the 1990s but has "rapid[ly] spiked" since 2000, according to the Record (Padawer, Bergen Record, 5/4). In 2001, the number of new syphilis cases in the United States rose for the first time in 11 years, with large increases occurring among MSM. The increase is a setback for the CDC's goal of eliminating syphilis in 90% of U.S. counties by 2005, but it also signals that many MSM are no longer practicing safe sex, which could lead to an increase in HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 4/22). Urban areas with large gay populations such as New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco have been "especially hard hit" by syphilis, according to the Record. In New Jersey, Newark had 37% of the state's syphilis cases in 2002. Russ Mognoni, New Jersey's assistant program manager for STDs, said that MSM are engaging in more risky behavior because HIV/AIDS is no longer seen as a death sentence. "In the 1990s, gay men were too sick, or too scared of AIDS, to engage in risky behavior," Mognoni said, adding, "But AIDS isn't the killer disease it was 10 or 20 years ago. Today, AIDS is managed -- and safe sex messages are starting to lose their effectiveness." The health department is coordinating syphilis prevention efforts with AIDS educators to try to reduce the trend (Bergen Record, 5/4).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.