The recent outbreak of syphilis among gay and bisexual men in San Francisco is largely due to men who met sex partners on the Internet, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released this week. The outbreak, which began in the summer of 1999, has seen syphilis infections increase more than 10-fold among gay men in the city, rising from 41 new cases in 1998 to nearly 500 in 2002. The percentage of all new syphilis cases in the city reported among gay men rose from 22% in 1998 to 88% in 2002. The CDC study showed that for 415 gay men diagnosed with syphilis in 2002, Internet chat rooms were the most common venue where they met sex partners. Nearly 45% of the men surveyed said they met all or some of their sex partners online. Of those who did have sex with men they met online, one fifth had no contact information for their sex partners other than an e-mail address.
Health officials say that because the Internet is such a popular venue for gay men to meet partners for casual sex, syphilis prevention and partner notification efforts also should be conducted online. "As the association between syphilis among men who have sex with men and the use of the Internet as a means for meeting sex partners grows, health departments must adopt new strategies for partner notification," said CDC and San Francisco Department of Public Health officials in the report. "Local health departments in other cities that have had large increases in early syphilis cases among men who have sex with men should consider using the Internet for partner notification and management."
The full study appears in Friday's edition of the CDC publication Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.