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Local and Community News

San Francisco Turns to Computers to Curb Rise in Syphilis

June 19, 2003

Aiming to stem an alarming rise in syphilis, San Francisco health officials are turning to the place where they say many infected residents meet their sexual partners: the Internet. The Department of Public Health this week launched a Web site,, where people who think they may have contracted syphilis can order confidential tests and print out laboratory slips containing personal identification numbers (PIN) instead of their names. Once the patients have their blood drawn at a participating lab, their results will be posted online, which they can access with their nine-digit PIN.

"Nearly 40 percent of recent syphilis cases met their sex partners online," said Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, director of the department's STD unit. "Now, we can offer these same Internet users a free convenient way to access STD testing via the Web."

While the new site affords users an important measure of privacy, it is not strictly anonymous, cautioned Deb Levine of the educational group Internet Sexuality Information Services. Via personal information visitors must enter before obtaining their PIN, those who test positive for syphilis will be contacted by the health department for mandatory counseling and follow-up, Levine said.

Last year, there were 595 new cases of syphilis in San Francisco, nearly double the number from the year before, and two-thirds of them were found in HIV-positive men, raising fears that the syphilis epidemic presages a resurgence in HIV transmission. Only 47 syphilis infections were reported in 1997.

The city is hoping to stem the increase by having most HIV-positive residents routinely tested for syphilis. Klausner said the new site will be promoted at gay-oriented Web sites, through advertisements on buses, and with outreach at sex clubs and adult bookstores.

Back to other CDC news for June 19, 2003

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Associated Press
06.19.03; Lisa Leff

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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 News and Research on Syphilis in Western U.S. States