Health officials in Pima County, Ariz., which includes the city of Tucson, report that new syphilis cases in the county have tripled since 2000, with gay and bisexual men accounting for more than one third of the new infections. "This is a major group getting syphilis now here and across the country," said Elizabeth MacNeill, Pima County's chief medical officer, of gay and bisexual men. "They are way overrepresented in this resurgence. We suspect it's because a lot are not practicing safe sex." A total of 94 new syphilis infections were reported last year, up from 30 in 2000.
The county has issued a "syphilis alert" to emergency rooms, urgent care centers, health clinics, infectious disease experts, and doctors who treat AIDS, asking them to screen patients for syphilis. "We're not fooling around with this; this disease can kill," MacNeill said. "It can be deadly to an unborn baby, it can cause birth defects, it can cause brain damage in anyone who isn't treated in time. The problem is that we had gotten this under such good control, many doctors haven't seen syphilis in recent years and won't know what the first signs are or what they mean. That has to change now."