Local and Community News

Syphilis Outbreak Unabated in New York City

May 1, 2003

New York City's health department is predicting that the current syphilis outbreak among gay and bisexual men will continue through 2003 and might even grow larger by the end of the year. As of the week of April 7, 105 cases of primary or secondary syphilis have been reported to the health department, and just six of those cases were among women. There were 102 cases reported during the same period in 2002, with five cases among women. That trend of men dominating the male-to-female ratio of cases began in 1998 and has increased since then.

The health department is also reporting an increase in the number of early latent cases of syphilis for the first quarter of 2003. There were 242 such cases, with 32 among women, in 2003 compared to 165 cases, with 31 among women, during the same quarter in 2002. An early latent case is someone who no longer exhibits the obvious physical symptoms of primary and secondary syphilis such as lesions on the penis, vagina, or anus or in the mouth and later a rash anywhere on the body. Early latent cases of syphilis, like primary and secondary cases, must be treated in order to prevent the potentially life-threatening final stage syphilis.

The 2003 data are preliminary, but they suggest that the syphilis outbreak will continue unabated. They also indicate that some gay and bisexual men have given up safe sex practices. A syphilis infection, like some other STDs, increases the likelihood of getting or acquiring HIV.

The health department is recommending that sexually active gay and bisexual men get tested for syphilis every year, whether or not they have symptoms. It is also telling physicians to treat patients they suspect have syphilis even before the result is confirmed with a test.

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Adapted from:
Gay City News (New York City)
04.25.03; Duncan Osbourne

This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Syphilis -- a Dreadful Disease on the Move
Basic Questions and Answers About Syphilis and Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM)


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