The number of syphilis cases reported by gay and bisexual men in Los Angeles County has increased 62% in 2002, representing 360 new cases so far this year, officials said. "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. "Syphilis can lead to neurological problems, blindness, and even death. If you are HIV-positive and contract syphilis, complications can come much sooner and be much more powerful."
Earlier this year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 68% increase in syphilis cases in California in 2001 compared with the year before. Syphilis rates have been rising in the state since the spring of 2000. Fighting the spread of syphilis is proving difficult because gay men are tuning out after having heard safer-sex messages for years, said Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. He called for more testing centers and outreach programs specifically targeting men who have sex with men to boost awareness of the rising syphilis infection rates in the Los Angeles area and to help treat men who are unaware that they carry the sexually transmitted disease.