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National News

Syphilis Cases Rising in New Jersey

May 6, 2003

The number of New Jersey men infected by syphilis has more than tripled in the last three years, echoing a national trend that has alarmed public health experts. "Though they're still relatively low, it's not a good sign," said Eddy Bresnitz, the state's epidemiologist and assistant commissioner of health. "Syphilis by itself is a significant illness, especially if it's not treated early, but it also facilitates the transmission of HIV."

New state Health Department data indicate that 121 men were diagnosed with syphilis in its first or second stages in 2002. State health officials say the vast majority of cases were men who have sex with men. Forty-eight women were diagnosed with the disease in 2002. Although the number of infected people is low -- compared to the 1,719 New Jersey cases in 1990 -- public health experts say the rapid spike in infections is deeply troubling because it signals that many men have resumed unprotected sex with multiple partners.

"In the 1990s, gay men were too sick, or too scared of AIDS, to engage in risky behavior," said Russ Mognoni, the state's assistant program manager for STD control. "Today, AIDS is managed -- and safe sex messages are starting to lose their effectiveness."

Within three years, the number of white men in New Jersey diagnosed with syphilis spiked from fewer than five in 1999 to 45 in 2002. Nationally, between 2000 and 2001, as infection among white men increased, the number of cases among women dropped 20 percent, and among African Americans, 10 percent. But in New Jersey, the number of African Americans newly diagnosed increased 2.5 times between 2000 and 2002, and the number of infected women of all races doubled.

In response, the state Department of Health coordinated with AIDS educators to get out the message that testing and treating syphilis slows the transmission of a disease that will further the spread of AIDS. In Newark, syphilis' local epicenter, the department added intervention specialists to knock on doors, identify sexual contacts, and urge infected residents to seek treatment.

Back to other CDC news for May 6, 2003

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
05.04.03; Ruth Padawer

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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 Northeastern U.S. States