LOS ANGELES COUNTY: Syphilis Outbreak Among Gay Men
An outbreak of syphilis among gay men in Los Angeles County is spreading, with the number of reported cases doubling to 51 in the past two weeks, the Los Angeles Times reports. Of the 51 men with syphilis, 28 also have HIV, a cause of concern to county health officials who note that syphilis sores "facilitate transmission" of HIV. According to Peter Kerndt, director of the county's STD program, five new syphilis cases were diagnosed this week at the L.A. county jail, and two of the infected men said they have had sex recently with many partners, prompting health officials to offer testing and treatment to more than 300 inmates who identified themselves as homosexual. Given that none of the 120 syphilis cases reported in Los Angeles County last year were among gay men, Kerndt considers the outbreak very significant, attributing it to a decline in safe sex practices. AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein said, "With the cases doubling in the last two weeks, that's pretty much proof positive there are hundreds of cases [in the county]. Now the task is to keep it from becoming thousands of cases."
A National Pattern?
While the outbreak is concentrated largely in Los Angeles County's Silver Lake, Hollywood, West Hollywood and Long Beach areas, other counties, such as Orange County, also have seen an increase in syphilis cases in the last year. Penny Weismuller, division manager for disease control at the Orange County Health Care Agency, said officials are monitoring the situation, but added that it "is not anything like what is happening in Los Angels County." Major cities across the United states, however, have also seen outbreaks, including San Francisco and Philadelphia. According to Dr. Jeffery Klauser, a federal health official who tracks syphilis cases in San Francisco and Seattle, a similar pattern may also be emerging in New York City. "It may be only a matter of time before syphilis becomes endemic in these communities. That would mean the prospects for syphilis elimination would be over," he said (Marquis, Los Angeles Times, 4/8).