Louisiana: Syphilis on Rise Among Gay Men
May 18, 2005
On May 11, state health officials met with community leaders to discuss the sudden spike in syphilis cases among gay and bisexual men in Louisiana. Cases in this group rose from three in 2002 to 88 last year. Officials are worried about HIV/AIDS as well, since syphilis patients are much more vulnerable to HIV.
In 2003, 465 Louisianans died from AIDS, according to Dr. Jason Reed, supervisor of the state Office of Public Health's HIV surveillance program. AIDS kills roughly 20,000 annually nationwide.
Meeting participants said AIDS mortality is an aspect of the illness often disregarded by young gay and bisexual men -- the people most likely to contract STDs because of their tendency to ignore safe sex practices. Attendees said young people think they are invulnerable, and they are not old enough to have lost friends in the early years of the AIDS epidemic.
"I'm seeing more and more HIV-positive gay men 19 to 30 years old," said James Swire, coordinator of the NO/AIDS Task Force's community outreach programs. "They need to be talked to."
CDC figures show that nationwide, gay and bisexual men accounted for 5 percent of syphilis cases in 1999 and 60 percent in 2003.
Dr. Kevin Fenton, chief of CDC's syphilis elimination effort, said in a telephone interview that use of illegal drugs such as crystal methamphetamine is a factor contributing to the rise in syphilis cases. "It has such a strong disinhibiting effect on sexual behavior that men who normally would want to practice safe sex end up not caring," he said. Fenton said the Internet "speeds up the process of meeting partners and acquiring sexually transmitted diseases."
Meeting participants all agreed on the need for more aggressive outreach and better access to treatment for STDs.
Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
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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.