Risky Sexual Behavior Among MSM in Europe Increasing Number of Syphilis Cases, Health Officials Say
An increase in risky sexual behavior among men who have sex with men has been linked to a resurgence of syphilis cases in Europe, some health officials have said recently, the AP/International Herald Tribune reports. According to the AP/Herald Tribune, most syphilis cases in Europe are occurring among MSM, although the sexually transmitted infection also is increasing among heterosexual men and women.
During the last 10 years, syphilis outbreaks have been recorded in countries across Europe, the AP/Herald Tribune reports. In England, syphilis incidence increased from one case per 100,000 men in 1997 to nine cases per 100,000 men in 2006, according to the country's Health Protection Agency. In France, there were 428 syphilis cases in 2003 -- almost 16 times more than in 2000 -- and in the Netherlands, cases doubled between 2000 and 2004. Similar trends were recorded in Germany and Amsterdam. These increases have in part been associated with advances in antiretroviral drugs and the proliferation of dating Web sites that allow people to find sexual partners more easily, according to the AP/Herald Tribune.
Marita van de Laar, an expert in STIs at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, said that the "evidence points to an increase in unsafe sexual behavior since antiretrovirals for AIDS came along in 1996." She added that after decades of being instructed to use condoms and limit the number of sexual partners, some people are suffering from "safe sex fatigue," which has contributed to the increase in syphilis cases. Jonathan Elford, an HIV/AIDS epidemiologist at City University London, said, "Networks of HIV-positive men to find other positive men have sprung up on the Internet."
In response to the resurgence of syphilis cases, health workers at the Terrence Higgins Trust have launched an Internet campaign, the AP/Herald Tribune reports. THT health workers log into Internet chat rooms on a popular British gay dating Web site to spread awareness of safer sex messages and answer questions from MSM. "We know that men are arranging hookups for sex online," Mark Thompson, deputy head of THT's health promotion, said adding that the group "decided to tap into cyberspace to try reaching them before unsafe sex might happen." Van de Laar said that it is "definitely worth trying," adding, "If we don't do enough to stop syphilis in the [MSM] community now, we could potentially be dealing with a much bigger risk in the future" (AP/International Herald Tribune, 12/20).