L.A. syphilis cases rise; 6 in 10 have HIV
DECEMBER 12, 2002
The Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) is warning local officials that not enough is being done to combat the county's rising number of syphilis cases.
According to AHF President Michael Weinstein, a Dec. 15 report from the county's public health program confirms that 6 in 10 of new syphilis cases are among men who are already infected with HIV.
"There could be two reasons for so many cases being reported primarily among the HIV-infected," Weinstein said. "Either they are being exposed more often to syphilis, or routine syphilis screening at AIDS clinics simply catches a bigger percentage within this population when compared to men not in treatment. Men who are not HIV-infected aren't regularly screened."
In 2002, Los Angeles County reported 507 cases of syphilis, a sharp 27 percent increase from the 398 cases reported 2001. Among men who have sex with men, rates of syphilis jumped from 124 in 2001 to 181 in 2002, an even higher 46 percent increase in one year.
Once a disease as devastating and debilitating as AIDS, syphilis can be controlled with antibiotics. The most common symptom is a red body rash, but many people can be asymptomatic, which is why AHF is encouraging gay men to get tested. If untreated, syphilis can cause brain damage and hearing loss, and it can be particularly severe for people already infected with HIV. In addition, syphilis can also increase the transmission of other STDs.
"Anyone with a new unexplained rash should seek medical attention for diagnosis and treatment," said Dr. Paul DenOuden of the AHF Westside Healthcare Center.
"In places like West Hollywood, where alcohol and sex are primary industries, those communities have a responsibility to promote safer sex and make condoms available," Weinstein said to the Associated Press. In March 2001, West Hollywood residents voted against a measure supported by AHF that would have forced all bars to provide condoms to their patrons.
In addition, AHF is calling for more testing sites so that people who think they may be infected with syphilis will be able to find out their status. "You can't stop an outbreak of this kind without prevention, testing and treatment. On all those counts our public health authorities are failing," Weinstein said.
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