City Sees Increase In Syphilis
Health officials are continuing to see a disturbing increase in a sexually transmitted disease that once looked like it was close to being eradicated.
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Now within just the first quarter of the year, they report what could be a surge in syphilis cases. NY1 Health & Fitness reporter Kafi Drexel filed the following report on what's being done to try to stop it.
Within in just the first few months of the year New York City health officials say syphilis cases took a dramatic jump; they doubled in fact. From January through March, doctors reported 260 cases compared to 128 over the same period in 2006.
The numbers may still seem small in a city of eight million people, but health experts say the increase is enough for serious concern.
“Although you think of syphilis as something that you see in military training films from World War II, World War I, it's still very much present,” said Department of Health Assistant Commissioner Dr. Susan Blank. “We worry about syphilis because it can make it easier to get or spread HIV, which is really a very big concern.”
While there's been a slight increase among women, men make up the majority — 96 percent of new cases. And officials say most of those cases are among men who have sex with men in the Chelsea area of Manhattan. Half of those newly diagnosed are also infected with HIV.
The latest numbers have already prompted a new advertisement campaign from the Gay Men's Health Crisis encouraging syphilis screening and treatment.
“We need to make sure men check themselves out, as well as being concerned about the transmission that may happen with a partner,” said Bill Stackhouse of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis. “People should be using condoms and people should be safe.”
Syphilis is curable with penicillin. Left untreated, however, there can be serious health consequences like permanent neurological damage, still birth, mental retardation, blindness or deafness to the newborns of women who may unknowingly be infected.
“Ideally this is just an aberration, but we can't count on that,” said Blank. “Every New Yorker has a role to play in protecting themselves against syphilis and other sexually transmitted disease.”
Doctors say the way to do that is using latex condoms for every sex act, limiting numbers of partners, and more routine screenings for those at higher risk — including gay men and anyone infected with HIV.