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National News

Oregon Syphilis Rate Hits Nine-Year High

March 4, 2003

Syphilis cases in Oregon have hit a nine-year high, with the state logging 47 cases in 2002, up from 22 in 2001 -- the sixth-biggest percentage increase in any state. Four-fifths of last year's cases were reported in Multnomah County. Health care workers worry that Portland might see the very large increases in STDs that now plague other large West Coast cities. So health workers and safe sex activists are redoubling their efforts, taking their battle to newspapers, clubs, chat rooms and other venues used by people at increased risk for syphilis.

"Somebody who gets syphilis is not having protected sex. They're not using a condom," said state epidemiologist Mel Kohn. "So it's sort of a marker for a bunch of sexual risks [including] that they might be spreading HIV." Syphilis, like gonorrhea and some herpes infections, causes ulcers in or on sexual areas of the body, making it easier to transmit blood-borne infections -- including HIV.

Some health officials think STDs are increasing because fewer people are listening to safe sex messages, partly because new drugs have prolonged the life of people with AIDS. Margaret Lentell, Multnomah's STD program head, said that surveys also show people ages 15-35 are tiring of safe sex messages, perhaps because they did not experience the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. Rates of several STDs, including chlamydia and gonorrhea, have been rising in Oregon in the past five years.

The biggest syphilis increases have been in the Northeast and on the West Coast, especially in big cities. Syphilis' reemergence, after a decade of nationwide declines, is driven by men -- women's rates continue to decline. In addition to gay and bisexual men, Lentell said, sex workers and anyone who has unprotected sex with people they do not know well are affected by the rising STD rates.

Back to other CDC news for March 4, 2003

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Oregonian
03.01.03; Andy Dworkin



  
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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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