A new report from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the incidence of syphilis has more than doubled in the past years, with infections among gay men accounting for the majority of cases.
The CDC study, released today, said the rate of syphilis infection last year was 5.3 cases per 100,000 people. By contrast, in 2000 the rate was 2.1 cases per 100,000, leading to predictions from some people that the disease would disappear.
Men accounted for 91 percent of syphilis infections, with the rate highest among black men. However, the CDC said the largest rate of increase in infection was among white and Latino men. Syphilis infections among women declined to 0.9 cases per 100,000 last year from 1.5 cases in 2008.
The study cited figures from 35 areas of the country where men were asked to identify the gender of their sexual partners. The percentage of syphilis cases attributable to men who had sex with other men increased from 77 percent (6,366 cases) in 2009 to 84 percent (8,701 cases) in 2012. The greatest percentage increases occurred among Latinos (53.4 percent, from 1,291 cases in 2009 to 1,980 in 2012) and whites (38.1 percent, from 2,449 cases to 3,381). Among black men the increase 21.2 percent ( 2,267 casesto 2,747). By age group, the greatest percentage increases occurred among gay men aged 25–29 (53 percent, from 1,073 cases to 1,644).
While syphilis can be easily treated when detected early (typically with an injection of penicillin), if left undetected it can cause blindness or a stroke.
The CDC has recommended prevention efforts that include screening for the disease, use of latex condoms, limiting sex partners and encouraging monogamous relationships with partners who do not have a sexually transmitted disease. However CDC representatives said the increase in cases among gay men indicated that new measures need to be considered.