- Associated Press - Monday, November 9, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - The Oregon health department is launching a campaign in hopes of stemming the spread of syphilis in the state.

The rate of incidence of syphilis has grown 1,500 percent between 2007 and this year, According to The Statesman Journal

(http://stjr.nl/1PkDoWB). Reported cases have spiked from fewer than 30 in 2007 to 450 so far this year.

The Oregon Health Authority is launching an awareness campaign aimed at public and health care providers. The campaign, called Syph Aware, will place ads on TriMet buses and launch a website with information about the disease.

Dr. Sean Schafer, a medical epidemiologist with the authority, said the campaign should remind high-risk groups to use protection and to be aware of the rise in infections.

“People are savvy, so people with HIV know that their medicines are effective at reducing the risk of transmission to others, so they’re less careful about using condoms,” Schafer said. “Even if you don’t transmit HIV, you can transmit syphilis and gonorrhea.”

He said condom use has declined in the past 15 years, which when paired with the ease of meeting people through smartphone applications and websites is playing a role in the spread of syphilis.

Syphilis is on the rise across the country, though not as dramatically as in Oregon. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the national rate rose from 4.6 cases per 100,000 population to 5.5 cases per 100,000 population in 2013.

In 2013, Oregon ranked eighth-highest in the country for syphilis rates. It now ranks fifth, according to Syph Aware.

Schafer said Oregon isn’t doing anything to increase exposure, but big cities are more likely to experience epidemics.

“They might come to Portland specifically to have a good time, as you will,” he said. “They might be on holiday or vacation and more likely to have more hook-ups or anonymous hook-ups.”

Health officials recommend that people at risk for syphilis, including men who have sex with men, people with HIV, people who use illicit drugs, sex workers and people who have multiple sex partners should be screened every thee months.

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Information from: Statesman Journal, http://www.statesmanjournal.com

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