Oregon: Men Urged to Get Tested as Syphilis Rates Rise
July 18, 2003
With Oregon syphilis rates reaching levels not seen in a decade, health workers in the Portland area are urging some men to get tested for the disease up to four times a year.
The rise in syphilis cases is primarily among gay men age 35 and older who pick up male sexual partners over the Internet or in adult venues, according to Margaret Lentell of the Multnomah County Health Department. So far this year, the county has recorded 17 cases of recent syphilis infection in men who have sex with men, compared with 18 such cases for all of 2002 and just four in 2001.
The anonymity of meetings arranged on the Internet presents health officials with a difficult challenge in tracking down sex partners of men with syphilis to notify them of their risk, said Lentell. She is urging high-risk men to get tested for syphilis soon and often.
"Our message is, if you're a man who has sex with men ... and you're having more than one partner in a three-month period, that you get screened for syphilis every three-to-six months," Lentell said. She encouraged those who are HIV-positive to get tested every three months.
As a result of the marked increase, two health workers have come from CDC and are advising state and local officials, said Mel Kohn, Oregon's state epidemiologist.
When state syphilis rates reached a nine-year high last year, Portland health workers launched an awareness campaign for local gay men. But the disease's spread has only quickened. Lentell fears that, if safer sex practices fail to curb the spread of syphilis, Portland could see an outbreak like the one in Los Angeles -- where early-stage syphilis cases went from a few dozen in the late 1990s to 227 in 2001 and hit 520 cases last year.
Trends in Primary and Secondary Syphilis and HIV Infections in Men Who Have Sex With Men -- San Francisco and Los Angeles, California, 1998-2002
This article was provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update. Visit the CDC's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.