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Local and Community News

Syphilis Infections on the Rise in South Florida

April 16, 2003

Florida health officials reported that syphilis infections among gay men were 43 percent higher in January and February in Fort Lauderdale's Broward County than the same time last year. Miami-Dade county cases were up 30 percent over the same period.

Up to 90 percent of all accounted syphilis cases were reported by men and 85 percent of those men are co-infected with HIV, said Howard Sommers, acting director of the STD division of the Broward County Health Department. Sommers said that Broward County has seen a significant increase in syphilis infections during the past three years. In 1998, there were 13 reported cases of syphilis for the entire year. Currently, 11 new cases are reported each month, he said.

"This is a result of high-risk activity and not all gay men engage in this type of behavior," Sommers said. "Since a lot of these cases are being reported by men who are HIV-positive, a lot of them are not as worried about getting something else."

Lorri Jordahl, Miami-Dade's STD program consultant, said that many gay men have suffered from "message fatigue," noting that "condom only" messages fail to have the same impact they did in the late '80s. She also noted that a minority of men infected with syphilis who visit her office simply get their medicine and go back out on the prowl.

To tackle the growing problem, Miami-Dade Health Department produced three ads targeting gays in the area. One features a man with syphilis ulcers on his tongue and lower lip with the text, "Got Syphilis!" below the image. "The 'gross out' factor really got people talking about oral sex," said Jordahl. "People aren't as concerned about getting a disease through oral sex."

Back to other CDC news for April 16, 2003

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Southern Voice (Atlanta)
04.11.03; Joe Crea

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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