- The Washington Times - Friday, November 1, 2002

The U.S. syphilis rate rose last year for the first time in a decade, primarily because of outbreaks among homosexual and bisexual male populations, the federal government says in a report released today.
In 2001, there were 6,103 syphilis cases, or 2.2 cases per 100,000 population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
This is a 2 percent increase from 2000, when there were 5,979 cases, or 2.1 cases per 100,000 people.
The 2000 figures were the lowest since the government began tracking syphilis data in the 1940s.
The increase in syphilis cases, the first since 1990, is disappointing, said Dr. Ronald O. Valdiserri, deputy director of the National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention at the CDC.
Still, the goal to reduce syphilis cases to fewer than 1,000 a year by 2005 remains "realistic and achievable," he said, noting that half of the 6,103 cases were concentrated in 20 counties and the city of Baltimore.
The overall decline of syphilis has been attributed to widespread use of penicillin to treat the disease, "safer-sex" messages introduced at the start of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and targeted efforts to eliminate the disease in this country.
Southerners, blacks, prostitutes, people who trade sex for drugs and men who have sex with men have traditionally been included in the at-risk population for syphilis.
The new data show syphilis-elimination efforts appear to be paying off among women, blacks and people living in the South: Between 2000 and 2001, syphilis rates declined 19.5 percent for women, 9.9 percent among blacks and 8.1 percent in the South.
But men accounted for the latest increase in syphilis cases, and syphilis outbreaks have recently been reported in Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City all cities with large homosexual populations.
"Our challenge and the challenge for gay and bisexual communities across America is to underscore the connections between syphilis and HIV," Dr. Valdiserri said.
There needs to be a renewed commitment to the kind of HIV prevention that was seen in the early years of that epidemic, he said, adding that many of the men newly diagnosed with syphilis were in their 30s and many were also infected with HIV.
In 2001, white men saw a 63 percent increase in syphilis cases and Hispanic men saw a 50 percent increase. There was a 3.5 percent decline in syphilis among black men, the CDC said in today's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, which is published by the CDC.
Syphilis infections begin with painless sores that go away, followed by skin rashes (especially on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet), sore throat, fever and more sores as the disease progresses. The sores and rashes are highly infectious and can increase the risk of HIV transmission.
Syphilis is easily treated with penicillin or other antibiotics. Left untreated, it can cause dementia, paralysis, blindness and organ damage. Among women, syphilis can also cause miscarriages, stillbirths and severe infections to newborns.
In 2001, the highest numbers of syphilis cases were in the vicinity of Detroit (379 cases), Chicago (339 cases), Atlanta (224 cases), Los Angeles (211 cases) and Memphis (208 cases). Baltimore had 161 cases in 2001.

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