More MSM Finding Partners on Internet in Chicago, Contributing to Increase in Syphilis Cases, Report Finds
An increasing number of men who have sex with men in Chicago are finding sex partners on the Internet, helping to fuel a rise is syphilis cases among the group, according to a report recently released by the Chicago Department of Health, the Chicago Tribune reports. The number of syphilis cases in Chicago remained around 300 cases annually for about 10 years, and until 2001, most cases were recorded among heterosexuals. In 2007, 331 syphilis cases were reported in the city, 71% of them among MSM, the Tribune reports. According to the Tribune, one concern related to the increasing number of people diagnosed with syphilis is that they also are HIV-positive. Among heterosexuals diagnosed with syphilis at Chicago clinics four years ago, 6% were HIV-positive; however, last year, 15% were HIV-positive, the Tribune reports.
For the report, William Wong, medical director of the health department's division of sexually transmitted infections and HIV/AIDS, conducted confidential interviews as part of the health department's routine disease-surveillance activities. Wong said that for the first time, more MSM said they met sex partners online than in places such as bars. He added that 34% of men diagnosed with syphilis in 2007 at clinics run by the health department said they met their sex partners on the Internet, compared with 33% who said they met their partners at bars or clubs. "Prevention does work, and the reductions over the last 10 years among women and the heterosexual community are an important advance," Wong said, adding, "We are making progress. But syphilis is still around, and there's still work to be done."
Deborah Levine -- executive director of the Oakland, Calif.-based Internet Sexuality Information Services -- said that although the Internet is not the cause of the increase in syphilis cases among MSM, it increases the risk of disease transmission. "If you go to a bar in a night, there might be 200 or 300 people there," Levine said, adding, "You can go on multiple Web sites in a night and potentially meet thousands of people. The speed and sheer numbers allow for more possibilities for passing around infections."
Wong noted that although the Internet has created new challenges, it also offers opportunities for intervention. The health department has added more information about syphilis to its Web site and started posting banner ads on other sites. It also has launched a new site, called "inSPOT," which is administered in partnership with ISIS. The site allows men to send e-mails anonymously notifying their partners that they have been exposed to an STI (Shelton, Chicago Tribune, 7/14).