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Local and Community News

Florida: Syphilis Outbreak Troubles Officials

March 24, 2003

Syphilis cases in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Fla. are rising again so dramatically that health officials are calling it an epidemic.

Broward County, where just 13 cases were reported in 1998, is now seeing an average 11 new cases a month. From 2001 to 2002, the number of new syphilis cases in the county jumped 88 percent; in Dade, the cases rose 19 percent. In the first two months of this year, Broward cases increased 43 percent compared with the same period last year; Dade cases went up 30 percent.

Last year, Miami and Fort Lauderdale were ranked among the eight U.S. cities with the highest number of new syphilis cases by CDC.

The new outbreak -- primarily among gay and bisexual men -- signals a resurgence of high-risk sexual behavior, as well as a backlash against the safe-sex messages of the past two decades, say state and county health officials. "Prevention message burnout" combined with the perception that HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence, may be creating an atmosphere in which unprotected sex with multiple, anonymous partners is not only tolerated, but encouraged, say health officials. "We are concerned about it. Absolutely," said Tom Burns, STD program manager of the Miami-Dade County Health Department. "There seems to be 'prevention message burnout.' Maybe we don't have the right messages out there."

Health officials say new strategies are needed to reach those at risk of syphilis. Otherwise, the epidemic could continue to spiral. "Syphilis can shoot through the ceiling and spike in numbers at any time," said Dan George, field operations manager with the state health department's Bureau of STD Prevention and Control. "We need to increase public awareness not just to syphilis, but to the behavior that leads to the disease."

A "rapid response team" from CDC will meet with officials in Miami-Dade on Tuesday and with Broward officials on Wednesday to discuss prevention and intervention strategies for tackling the outbreak.

Back to other CDC news for March 24, 2003

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Miami Herald
03.23.03; Monica Rhor

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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 on Syphilis in Southern U.S. States