The re-introduction of the "Healthy Penis" educational campaign is being credited in part with a leveling-off of syphilis rates in San Francisco.
Syphilis cases in the city fell 20 percent from 2005 to 2007, but increased 55 percent -- from 472 to 658 -- between 2007 and 2008. The 473 cases seen in the first nine months of 2009 suggest that the total for this year could be 548, slightly less than the 552 seen in 2004.
Still, local public health officials are not breathing a sigh of relief.
"2008 was an extraordinarily high year. We have come down from that but we are nowhere near where we want to be with syphilis rates, which is elimination," said Dr. Susan Philip, acting director of the health department's STD prevention and control section.
The Healthy Penis campaign features a cast of cartoon characters: the phallus, dubbed Byron H. Penis; friends Pedro (a Latino) and Clark (an African American); as well as their arch-enemy Phil, the Syphilis Sore. The program was shut down in 2006 and brought back in the beginning of 2009. The city's cases of syphilis are seen chiefly among gay men, whom the campaign targets with advice on prevention and testing.
The current campaign features six print ads, radio spots, interview shows, events, posters and outreach materials, and bus ads.
Philip gave a nod to the Healthy Penis campaign but acknowledged other factors behind the current reduction in syphilis. "The community and the continued partnership with providers in the community need part of the credit as well for at least stabilizing the rates," she said.
The general stabilization of syphilis rates also holds up when looking only at primary and secondary syphilis. In the first nine months of 2009, cases of primary and secondary syphilis totaled 235, a slight reduction from the 242 reported during the comparable period last year.
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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.