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Local and Community News

San Francisco: Criticism Over Syphilis Ad Campaign

June 25, 2002

San Francisco health officials have run up against opposition to a whimsical advertising campaign aimed at raising awareness about syphilis among gay and bisexual men. The ads, to be placed on bus shelters in the Castro district and in gay newspapers during June's gay pride celebration, depict a cartoon penis and syphilis sores, under the headline "Syphilis sores are spreading throughout the gay community -- Get tested for syphilis."

Viacom Outdoor, which owns the half dozen bus shelters in and around the Castro, objected to the use of the cartoon penis in the ads, city officials said. Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, the city's director of STD prevention, said the ads were timed to the arrival of thousands of out-of-town visitors for the gay pride celebration, which culminates Sunday with a parade. The ads come in response to mounting evidence of rising syphilis infection among men who have sex with men. In 1998, there were 10 cases of syphilis among gay and bisexual men in San Francisco. Last year, there were 157 cases, and officials estimate there may be as many as 400 cases before year's end.

Klausner described the cartoon ads as "sex positive" and funny, a shift from the city's somber awareness campaigns against hepatitis and HIV in recent years. While the ads are tongue-in-cheek, they also deliver an important message, Klausner said.

A Viacom official said the company was only looking out for the best interest of passers-by and children. Patrick Roche, vice president and regional manager for Viacom said. "We just asked them to tone down the graphics is all. It's no big thing." Health officials offered a censored version of the ads with only the cartoon syphilis sores and will run the original ad, with the penis, in local gay publications. The city paid $50,000 for the Healthy Penis 2002 campaign.

Back to other CDC news for June 25, 2002

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
San Francisco Chronicle
06.25.02; Christopher Heredia



  
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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.
 

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