New syphilis cases in Chicago have dropped 25%, health officials report, mostly due to an aggressive syphilis awareness campaign that urged at-risk city residents to be tested for the sexually transmitted disease, the Chicago Tribune reports. The decline comes as syphilis infections continue to climb in most other U.S. cities. Chicago's public awareness campaign was launched in 2002 after a spike in syphilis infections was detected, particularly among sexually active gay and bisexual men. The campaign, which focused on the need to be tested for the disease and not on changing sexual behaviors that could result in syphilis transmissions, included advertisements throughout the city, including on public transportation and bathrooms in gay bars.
"We were really aggressive about putting the word out there," Chris Brown, assistant commissioner for STD/HIV/AIDS at the Chicago Department of Public Health, told the Tribune. "Syphilis is a pretty serious disease, and we tried to jump really quickly on this when we saw how much of it we had."
Surveys showed that of all the Chicago men who got tested for syphilis infection since 2001, half said they did so because of the awareness campaign. Syphilis tested increased dramatically among gay men, health officials say. At the city's Howard Brown Health Center, which focuses on gay and lesbian health, the number of clients taking syphilis tests increased fivefold after the campaign began.