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L.A. County officials order better HIV, STD prevention in bathhouses, sex clubs

L.A. County officials order better HIV, STD prevention in bathhouses, sex clubs

Alarmed by high rates of HIV, Los Angeles County supervisors on Tuesday ordered local health officials to strengthen plans to combat sexual disease transmissions in gay bathhouses and sex clubs. The board of supervisors unanimously backed a motion instructing the county's Department of Health Services and other county workers to recommend improvements for preventing such diseases. The motion requires officials to review HIV and sexually transmitted disease prevention efforts for bathhouses and other establishments and recommend improvements, as well as ways for cities and the county to coordinate licensing and permitting for the clubs. Officials must prepare a report within 90 days. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who authored the motion, said he hopes to create a "lifesaving road map." His motion cited a study showing 11% of patrons at two bathhouses in 2002 were infected with HIV despite efforts to provide testing and counseling. The high infection rate "suggests that our HIV/AIDS and STD prevention and treatment efforts must be strengthened to address the environment in which high-risk sexual behavior occurs," the motion stated. The motion also was prompted by a syphilis outbreak among gay men in the city. Syphilis cases throughout the West soared 64.3% between 2001 and 2002, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with most of the new cases occurring among gay and bisexual men. The Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation praised the supervisors' decision. "This is about public health," said AHF's director of prevention and testing, Karen Mall. "Serious infectious diseases continue to be transmitted at these venues while we sit here today, while we wait for this report to be compiled. I urge this body to act quickly to develop a sound public health ordinance in order to ensure clients have consistent, accessible prevention and HIV and STD screening services in these venues."

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