Some MSM With Syphilis Using Internet To Meet Sex Partners; Trend Raises Concerns About Possible Increase in HIV Cases
Men who have sex with men in California who contracted syphilis through unprotected sex used the Internet "more than any other venue" to meet sex partners, according to two studies presented yesterday at the 2003 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta, Long Island Newsday reports. Some health officials are concerned because the risk factors for syphilis and HIV are similar, and a recent increase in syphilis cases in larger cities could be a "harbinger of a new spike in HIV/AIDS cases," Newsday reports. Researchers examined 1,697 routine surveillance and contact tracing interviews completed by California health outreach workers on MSM with syphilis from January 2001 through June 2003. Approximately 66% of the respondents interviewed in 2002 said they were also HIV-positive, according to Terrence Lo, a California Department of Health epidemiologist. Researchers found that the use of online chat rooms, personal ads and ads for "sex parties" increased more than threefold since the first half of 2001; 40% of respondents said they used the Internet to find sex partners during the first six months of 2003. In another study, University of California-San Francisco Center for AIDS Prevention Studies researchers led by Gregory Rebchook conducted online interviews with 91 MSM who said they had met a sex partner through the Internet (Rabin, Long Island Newsday, 7/30). Researchers found that 39% of respondents -- 11% of whom were HIV-positive -- said they had had unprotected anal sex with someone they met online within the previous two months, Reuters reports.
Some public health officials said that the study findings underscore the power of the Internet, which could be used to deliver HIV prevention and safer sex messages to high-risk populations, according to Reuters (Simao, Reuters, 7/29). San Francisco health officials have launched a new Web site -- www.stdtest.org -- to combat a recent rise in new syphilis cases. More than 1,000 new syphilis cases have been diagnosed in San Francisco since 1999, when only 47 cases were reported. Last year, 595 new cases were identified, almost double the number reported in 2001, and two-thirds of the cases were among HIV-positive men. On the new Web site, people who want to be tested for syphilis can print out laboratory slips containing a nine-digit identification number instead of their name. After having blood drawn at a lab, their syphilis test results are posted online with the corresponding identification number (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 6/20). The Midwest AIDS Prevention Project has started a project in which a trained counselor uses "SexEd4U" as a screen name and enters gay and bisexual chat rooms to answer questions about HIV, sexually transmitted diseases and risky sexual behavior. Lo said that public health officials must work with Internet providers and Web site owners to encourage HIV prevention and safe sex messages, just as they encouraged gay bathhouse owners to provide condoms during the beginning of the HIV epidemic. "There's no one solution," Lo said, adding, "This is still a newly emerging venue. We're trying to figure this out." Public health officials and advocates will gather in Washington, D.C., next month for a conference on the subject of public health and the Internet, Newsday reports (Long Island Newsday, 7/30).
Webcasts of selected sessions of the conference are available online through kaisernetwork.org's HealthCast.