Local and Community News
California Festival Is Called Syphilis Threat
April 18, 2003
As Palm Springs gears up for the 30,000 gay partygoers expected at this weekend's "White Party" -- a festival famous for sex and drugs -- public health officials and some gay leaders are concerned the event will spread syphilis. "We're nervous that they're going to take [syphilis] there, and we're nervous that they're going to bring it home," said Dr. Peter Kerndt, director of STD control in Los Angeles County.Adapted from:
There is a good reason to be nervous. Cases of syphilis have risen dramatically in the Palm Springs area and throughout California, driven almost exclusively by gay and bisexual men. New infectious syphilis cases nearly doubled statewide last year. Palm Springs has in one year developed one of the highest per capita rates of syphilis in the nation, causing the California Department of Health to issue a health alert in late January. "The disease is spreading dramatically here," said Robert Farrell, director of medical services at the Desert AIDS Project.
Though easily treatable with antibiotics, syphilis is most worrisome for what it signifies: unsafe sex practices that lead to other STDs, among them HIV. In Los Angeles and San Francisco counties, over half of those testing positive for syphilis are HIV-positive. This weekend, public health officials and volunteers will be out in force at White Party events promoting syphilis prevention and testing, as well as distributing condoms and lubricant.
Some White Party veterans acknowledge that they are aware of the risks, and consequently take precautions. Health officials are somewhat less optimistic about the success of their prevention efforts. Both Kerndt and Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, his counterpart in San Francisco, say the obstacles facing awareness campaigns are enormous. Although some can be encouraged to practice safer sex, said Kerndt, "We know information is not enough to change behavior ... We're talking about sex addiction, drug addiction, loneliness, isolation, low self-esteem and disease, lots of it."
Los Angeles Times
04.18.03; Charles Ornstein; Louis Sahagun