The Body: The HIV/AIDS Authority


HIV/AIDS, Sexually Transmitted Diseases,
Tuberculosis Prevention News Update

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
December 27, 2002

Local and Community News

Syphilis Outbreak in Los Angeles County Leads to Calls for More Testing
Associated Press

In Los Angeles, a 62 percent increase in syphilis cases reported by gay men countywide has prompted health advocates to call for more outreach and testing programs. The increase represents about 360 new cases reported this year. It alarms health advocates because many of the syphilis patients were already diagnosed with HIV.

"The implications are that gay men are having more unprotected sex," said Karen Mall, director of prevention for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles. Although curable, "syphilis can lead to neurological problems, blindness and even death," Mall warned. "If you are HIV positive and contract syphilis, complications can come much sooner and be much more powerful."

Mall said syphilis rates have been rising since spring 2000. Earlier this year, CDC reported a 68 percent increase in syphilis cases in California in 2001 compared to 2000.

"Since AIDS has become treatable and people aren't dying in great numbers we've gotten complacent and safer sex is taking a back-seat," said Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. He noted the need for more testing centers and outreach programs to stop the spread of syphilis, citing increased testing as one reason for Baltimore's recent reduction in cases. He chided the gay community for not taking a stronger role in fighting STDs: "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."

A recent survey of gay bars in West Hollywood found only 57 percent of 14 establishments participating in a city-sponsored free condom program.

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This document was provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.