The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has launched a new syphilis testing and prevention campaign targeting gay and bisexual men in response to rising infection rates among men who have sex with men, Bay Windows reports. Throughout May and June, vouchers will be handed out at gay bars, through HIV/AIDS service organizations, and at gay pride events for free syphilis screenings and treatment at designated health centers across the state. Educational materials about syphilis and syphilis prevention also will be distributed. "Basically it's sort of health insurance for the next two months for your sexual health," said John Vincent, HIV prevention specialist at Boston's AIDS Action Committee, of the vouchers.
Kevin Cranston, deputy commissioner for the health department, says the primary goals of the campaign are to identify gay and bisexual men who are infected with syphilis and to raise awareness in the community that the STD is becoming more commonplace. "First and foremost, we want men to be aware that this organism is back in circulation again," he said. "We want men to think seriously about getting screened for syphilis. We want clinicians to ask their patients if they want to be screened for syphilis. We want to eliminate, yet again, syphilis from the gay male population."
New syphilis cases have risen in Massachusetts from 97 in 1999 to 197 in 2002, with more than 60% of the infections reported among gay and bisexual men. About half of all the men who have sex with men diagnosed with new syphilis infections also are coinfected with HIV. Health officials worry about syphilis-HIV coinfections because the syphilis sores associated with the first stages of the disease can make HIV transmission much easier.