Gay City News/02.27.08/03.03.08 Duncan Osborne
The health department is reporting that syphilis cases in New York City shot up by 60 percent from 2006 to 2007, largely due to an increase in cases among men who have sex with men (MSM).
There are limitations to the department’s data, because only about two-thirds of patients consent to be interviewed by staff. Ninety-seven percent of syphilis patients in 2007 were men, and 87 percent were MSM. "Of those that we’ve interviewed, 57 percent reported being HIV co-infected," said Dr. Susan Blank, assistant commissioner in the department’s Bureau of STD Control. Co-infection with an STD can facilitate transmission and acquisition of HIV.
According to the department’s figures:
*The syphilis case count was 621 in 2004, 616 in 2005, and 578 in 2006. The 2007 figure was 927.
*The distribution by racial/ethnic group was: black men, 31 percent; white men, 24 percent; Latino men, 24 percent; men of other/unknown race or ethnicity, 21 percent.
*Most cases were diagnosed in Manhattan (43 percent), Brooklyn (27 percent) and Queens (15 percent).
*The biggest increases were found in Chelsea, Greenwich Village, Union Square and Washington Heights – suggesting the trend is being driven by men in largely white gay neighborhoods.
Blank said the city will "probably, unfortunately" pass the 1,000-case mark in 2008. After peaking at more than 5,000 new syphilis cases in 1988, the numbers fell in the 1990s before beginning to rise again in 1999 as cases increased among MSM.
Some gay and AIDS groups expressed disappointment at the figures but said the data reflect the increases they had been seeing among their clients.