The number of syphilis cases in New Jersey has more than tripled during the past three years, with almost all of the infections reported among gay and bisexual men, The [Bergen, N.J.] Record reports. State health officials say the rising syphilis infection rates are likely due to increases in unprotected sex, which also could lead to rising HIV infection rates among men who have sex with men. Syphilis also makes HIV infection easier because the open sores associated with the first stage of the disease allow HIV to more readily enter the body.
The rising syphilis infection rates in New Jersey mirror similar increases throughout the country, with most new cases occurring among gay and bisexual men. Russ Mognoni, New Jersey's assistant program manager for sexually transmitted diseases, attributed the rising STD rates to unprotected sex linked with abating fears about HIV infection. "In the 1990s gay men were too sick or too scared of AIDS to engage in risky behavior," he said. "But AIDS isn't the killer disease it was 10 or 20 years ago. Today, AIDS is managed--and safe-sex messages are starting to lose their effectiveness."