Number of New Syphilis Cases Increasing Among MSM in Franklin County, Ohio
The number of reported syphilis cases in Franklin County, Ohio, has been increasing steadily over the years, particularly among men who have sex with men, the Columbus Dispatch reports. In Franklin County, which includes the city of Columbus, 124 syphilis cases have been reported so far this year, compared with 56 new cases in 1998. County health officials say that the increase is among MSM, a finding that mirrors a national trend, according to the Dispatch. "Columbus is one of the cities considered gay friendly, with a lot of men who have sex with men," Dr. Jeff Vasiloff, chief of HIV/STD prevention for the Ohio Department of Health, said, adding, "Franklin County is no different in what we see all over the country." David Andrist of the Columbus AIDS Task Force said that the city's testing program has found that many men diagnosed with syphilis also test positive for HIV, according to the Dispatch. Although syphilis could take decades to damage the health of a healthy individual, the disease can progress quickly in someone with a compromised immune system, such as an HIV-positive person, according to the Dispatch.
Fighting the Trend
To combat the increase in the number of new syphilis cases, the Columbus Health Department a few years ago began a program to test people at highest risk of infection. As part of the program, the department display at bars and coffee shops fliers and cards that said that syphilis tests are available at no cost, according to the Dispatch. "It said, 'Bring the card in, we'll give you a syphilis test quick and easy; you'll be a priority,'" Joni Finley, coordinator of prevention services for the sexual health program at the city health department, said, adding, "The more you test, the more disease you're going to find, and as you do that over [the] years, the numbers are going to decline." James Heffelfinger, a medical officer at CDC, said that increased testing does not account for the higher number of known syphilis cases, according to the Dispatch. "The increase is real," Heffelfinger said (Hoholik, Columbus Dispatch, 11/14).