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National News

New Syphilis Cases Rise for First Time in 11 Years

November 1, 2002

New syphilis cases rose in 2001 for the first time in 11 years, with large increases among gay men outpacing continued declines among blacks and Southerners, the CDC said Thursday.

The CDC reported 6,103 new infectious syphilis cases nationwide in 2001, up 2.1 percent from 2000. The overall increase, albeit slight, represents a setback for the four-year-old effort to eliminate syphilis by 2005. Until last year, the effort's goal of fewer than 1,000 new cases annually seemed to be on track, health experts said, but now that effort seems to be faltering.

Cases among men increased 17.3 percent, while cases among females dropped 19.6 percent. Cases among African-Americans declined 9.9 percent, and cases in the South dropped 8 percent. But cases among white men jumped 63 percent, and cases among Latino men increased 50 percent.

California was among the hardest-hit states, with 547 early-stage cases -- an increase of almost 68 percent from 2000. According to the state Department of Health Services, the vast majority of those infections were among gay and bisexual men, most of whom were also HIV-positive.

"In public health, we have to always look at what more we can do," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Los Angeles County Director of Public Health. "But this cannot be solved entirely without those who are at risk realizing they bear some responsibility as well."

"I think CDC is constrained about what they can do because of the political issues in dealing with gay men," said Dr. Jonathan Zenilman, an STD expert and infectious disease professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "The way to deal with this is to be... open and frank about what the risks are and what you need to do to protect yourself."

CDC officials defended their efforts, noting that the agency had not received increased STD prevention funding from Congress in several years. Last year the CDC sent teams to several large cities to help coordinate their responses to outbreaks.

Dr. Ronald O. Valdiserri, a top STD official at the CDC, said he believes the 2005 goal of syphilis elimination is still within reach. Eighty percent of US counties did not report a single case of early syphilis in 2001. Half of the reported cases are in 21 locations, allowing the CDC to focus its resources.

Back to other CDC news for November 1, 2002

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Los Angeles Times
11.01.02; Charles Ornstein

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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
Syphilis Fact Sheet
Basic Questions and Answers About Syphilis and Men Who Have Sex With Men (MSM)
More Statistics on Syphilis in the U.S.