Although the number of syphilis cases in the U.S. decreased among infants, women and blacks between 1999 and 2004, the overall number of cases in that time has risen because of increasing cases among men who have sex with men, CDC said Monday, the Los Angeles Times reports (Chong, Los Angeles Times, 5/9). Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can be treated with antibiotics. People with syphilis are three to five times as likely to contract HIV if they are exposed to the virus (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/9/05). According to Kevin Fenton, director of CDC's National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention, more than 50% of new syphilis cases were reported in 20 counties in urban areas on the East and West coasts. About 64% of new syphilis cases in 2004 occurred among MSM compared with 5% in 1999. Overall, syphilis incidence increased from 2.4 per 100,000 people in 1999 to 2.7 per 100,000 people in 2004. Among blacks, incidence decreased from 14.3 to nine per 100,000; among women from two to 0.8 per 100,000; and among newborns from 14.5 to 8.8 per 100,000. Those decreases are due to improved education focusing on blacks and women, according to CDC officials. John Douglas, director of CDC's Division of STD Prevention, said the rise of syphilis cases among MSM is related to the success of antiretroviral drugs in treating HIV. According to Douglas, many MSM now see HIV as a chronic manageable disease and have become less concerned about engaging in safer sex. CDC plans to collaborate with local health departments and community groups to reduce new syphilis infections among MSM. CDC also is developing a rapid syphilis test that could be used in bars, clubs and other nonclinical settings (Los Angeles Times, 5/9).
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