Syphilis rates in Florida's Broward and Miami-Dade counties are up significantly, leading health authorities to suspect that unprotected sex is on the rise, which could lead to increases in HIV infections, the Miami Herald reports. In Broward County, syphilis infections were up 88% in 2002; in Miami-Dade County, new syphilis cases were up 19% in 2002. The numbers seem to be climbing even faster in 2003, with infection rates as much as 40% higher during the first two months of this year compared with the same period in 2002. Most of the new infections are occurring among men who have sex with men. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have listed Miami and Fort Lauderdale among the eight U.S. cities with the highest numbers of new syphilis cases.
Health officials say rising rates of unprotected sex are due to a "perception that HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence but something that can be controlled by powerful new drugs," said Tom Burns, program manager of the Miami-Dade County Health Department's Sexually Transmitted Disease program. "There seems to be 'prevention message burnout.' Maybe we don't have the right messages out there." Jay McLaughlin, health coordinator at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of South Florida, confirms that more gay and bisexual men report engaging in unprotected sex. "People want to go back to the early days, when sex was free and everyone was having a great time," he said. "But we want people to realize what can happen."