Syphilis increasing in men, CDC says

November 09, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

LOS ANGELES -- Men undertaking risky homosexual activity are fueling a sharp increase in the incidence of syphilis and a smaller but concerning rise in gonorrhea resistant to commonly used antibiotics, federal researchers said yesterday.

Those increases come at a time when venereal disease rates among historically important risk groups, especially women and minorities, have been declining, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

San Francisco, as in previous years, had the highest incidence of syphilis, with a rate of 45.9 cases per 100,000 people. Baltimore ranked third with 33.2.

The diseases "are a significant and ongoing threat to millions of Americans," said Dr. Ronald Valdiserri, acting director of CDC's National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention. They cost the health care system $13 billion a year, he said.

Health authorities made major inroads into syphilis transmission during the 1990s, bringing the annual number of new cases during 2000 to the lowest level since recordkeeping began in 1941.

Between 2000 and 2004, however, the rate rose by 29 percent to a total of 7,980 cases, with most of the increase occurring among men. Men engaging in homosexual activities accounted for 64 percent of the syphilis infections in 2004, compared with about 5 percent in 1999, said Dr. John Douglas, director of the CDC's division of STD prevention.

The number of cases is relatively small, but the data are potentially alarming, experts said, because increases in venereal disease are generally precursors of increases in the transmission of AIDS, which is much more difficult to combat.

"We have very good and sound information showing increases in high-risk behaviors among men having sex with men since 1999," fueling the increase in syphilis, Valdiserri said.

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