Health officials in Toronto, alarmed at the rising number of syphilis cases being reported among the city's gay and bisexual men, are stepping up their efforts to encourage safer sex and screenings for the sexually transmitted disease, The Globe and Mail reports. Many of the new infections are being reported among middle-aged gay men, health officials say. New syphilis cases in the city were fewer than 20 in 1998, but the number has risen 20-fold since then to 353 new cases in 2004. Health officials are visiting gay bathhouses and launching syphilis awareness outreach programs to help lower the number of infections. They also are devising outreach efforts to reach at-risk gay men ages 35-50, who may be exposing themselves to the STD through oral sex.
"We are trying our best to get the message out about testing and treatment and safer sex, but it is hard to change people's behavior," Rita Shahin, Toronto's assistant medical officer, told The Globe and Mail. "We are working closely with community partners in terms of outreach, including educating physicians who may not have seen syphilis in years."